Polly Mathys points to Turkey Drive collection

Annual drive helps Reading families enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays

Alvernia University gears up for its annual Turkey Drive, when students, faculty, staff and community volunteers deliver turkeys, ham and food boxes to more than 1,200 families in the Reading area. The annual service project is a well-oiled operation with many parts. From partnering with community organizations and grocery stores to organizing volunteers and scheduling pick-ups and deliveries, more than 100 people work together to ensure the holidays are memorable experiences for hundreds of families.


“We’ve been doing this for 31 years, and we would not know Thanksgiving any other way,” said Polly Mathys, assistant professor in computer and information studies at Alvernia and lead organizer of the Turkey Drive. “It’s such an opportunity for us to embed ourselves in our own community, which we hope benefits the citizens of Reading,” she added.


Through longstanding and new partnerships and collaboration, Mathys oversees the project that includes more than 75 Alvernia students, faculty and staff volunteers as well as many community helpers. Volunteers help with a number of duties such as picking up food items, organizing and packing food boxes and delivering and handing out turkeys or ham, depending on the families’ preferences.


Founded in 1987, Alvernia’s first annual Turkey Drive fed 25 families. Today, the drive is still going and stronger than ever. Community partners have included Walmart, Shillington Farmers Market, Kennedy House, Olivet Boys and Girls Club, Millmont Elementary School, St. Margaret’s School, YMCA, Red Cross and community churches.


While most of the turkey deliveries are made to nonprofit organizations that then provide them for the families they serve, Alvernia students had the opportunity to not only deliver turkeys but also hand them out to families who stood in line at Kennedy House.


“There were more student volunteers than ever before,” said Mathys. “This type of experience changes their lives. It’s one they will remember for the rest of their lives,” Mathys said. She also pointed out that the Alvernia men's basketball team volunteered at St. Margaret’s School for their team service project. And, Alvernia faculty and staff brought their children to volunteer and help families in need.


In one of the last segments of the Turkey Drive, Alvernia volunteers partner with the Red Cross to prepare 240 Christmas food boxes, including a handmade holiday card in each box, for elderly veterans.