Talking turkey at USO event: Supermarket Sweeps donates holiday turkeys, fresh produce

Hundreds of active-duty service members and military spouses line up for the monthly Supermarket Sweeps on Nov. 16 sponsored by the Fort Meade USO Center in partnership with the Maryland Food Bank. For Thanksgiving, Walmart donated 800 turkeys. (Photos by Tynise Jones)

‘Tis the season for giving as hundreds of people rushed into the Fort Meade USO Center for free turkeys and produce during a turkey giveaway at the USO’s Supermarket Sweeps on Nov. 16.

Supermarket Sweeps is offered the third Thursday of every month by the Fort Meade USO Center. The monthly event is held in partnership with the Maryland Food Bank, which provides free produce and non-perishable goods to active-duty service members and military spouses.

For Thanksgiving, Walmart donated 800 turkeys, each weighing between 15 to 20 pounds.

“We wanted to do an outreach to the USO on behalf of what they’re doing for us, and that’s serving our country,” said Debbie Zyskowski, Walmart market manager for Baltimore-area stores.

Frozen turkeys weighing 15 to 20 pounds are spread out on a table. People also selected fresh produce and non-perishable foods donated monthly by the Maryland Food Bank for the Fort Meade USO Center’s Supermarket Sweeps.

This is the first year Walmart has linked up with Fort Meade for the Supermarket Sweeps. Walmart stores in Laurel, Glen Burnie, Arbutus and Severn contributed to the donation of turkeys.

“We gathered up a few stores so it could be a united community effort,” Zyskowski said.

In addition to the free turkeys, service members were given free produce such as carrots, cabbages, potatoes, onions, apples and canned goods.

“We always try to serve as many families as possible, so it’s a no-brainer for us to do something like this,” said Melyssa Haubenstricker, supervisor of the Fort Meade USO Center.

Although the event started at 9 a.m., people lugging wagons and large bags lined up at 7. The long line eventually wrapped around the corner of 6th Armored Cavalry Road.

Frozen turkeys were taken out of boxes and laid onto tables, while the produce remained in boxes ready to be picked. The event took about three hours.

“These programs are fantastic and very helpful,” said John Panzarella, USO volunteer. “The cost of living is so high, so this is a huge benefit.”

Carolyn Lee, 33, a member of the Navy organization COMPASS, was fascinated with the event.

“This will help out a lot, especially with me being new to the area,” Lee said.

The former Florida resident who now lives in Annanpolis was shocked that everything was free.

“For this to be completely free, especially around the holidays, is amazing,” Lee said.

Morgan Busby of Midway Commons stood in line for two hours for her turkey and veggies.

“I actually come every month before the Super Sweeps,” said Busby, 36, whose husband is Air Force Tech Sgt. John Busby. “It really helps offset the cost of food, and I’m able to have fresh produce.

“Plus, the USO volunteers are super nice and that alone makes me want to keep coming back.”

People hauling wagons and carrying large bags wait as long as three hours for the turkey giveaway.

Carlton Edwards of Meuse Forest stood in line for an hour, but said it was well worth the wait.

“This is very helpful because people have kids, which makes funds limited,” said Edwards, 28. “You don’t get this type of help everywhere.”

Around 11 a.m., the last turkey for the day was given away. However, those who waited in line but did not receive a turkey were given a voucher for a free turkey at their local Walmart store.

“I’m very grateful that they do this for us,” said Kelly Amerson, who resides in Midway Commons. “To be able to supplement groceries with the produce given out here is truly a blessing.

The retired Navy veteran was grateful for the USO’s contribution.

“This is definitely a blessing to all military families,” said Amerson, 32.

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