In 1978, a 30-year-old Patrick Mickelsen received two turkeys from his employer.
Because he was visiting family for Thanksgiving he didn't need the turkeys and so he decided to donate them to a church on Milwaukee's East Side.
The next year he and his roommate put some money together and bought turkeys to donate. From there, the Turkey Club was born.
More than 40 years later it is still going strong and has grown to at least five counties including Milwaukee County.
"This year we're donating 2,200 turkeys," Mickelsen said. "Last year we donated 2,000 turkeys."
The Turkey Club buys them using funds raised during events like bowling outings, golf outings, and the main fundraiser: the Turkey Club Raffle and Fundraiser held each November at O'Brien's Pub on Vliet.
Turkey Club member Felicia Bogdanski helps handle the money at the fundraiser. She said there is a silent auction, grand raffle, regular raffle, and some just donate money.
"I enjoy it," Bogdanski said. "It's very heartwarming to be able to give back to the community."
The Turkey Club delivers the turkeys to Hunger Task Force on Hawley Road in Milwaukee. Soon after, the agencies that get turkeys arrive forming a line several vehicles long.
Each agency has a number of turkeys they receive, and Patrick and volunteers are there to put box after box of frozen turkeys into the backs of SUVs, cars, vans, uHauls or whatever the agency drives up in.
"The need for food is unbelievable, especially around the holidays," said Steven Pollock, director of the St. Hyacinth Emergency Food Pantry. "A lot of our families come in, some of the stories they tell, the reason they come to a food pantry is they're really trying to decide whether or not their limited resources are going to go to either rent or food."
St. Hyacinth's receives 100 turkeys from the Turkey Club and they are paired with vegetables the pantry gets from the West Allis Farmers Market.
"Those of us that are involved with the hunger programs understand the significant contribution that Patrick makes," Pollock added.
Mickelsen didn't plan on running the Turkey Club this long, but now organizations depend on it so much he doesn't feel he can stop just yet.
"I'm not sure how long I'll do it, but if we can get more volunteers it can be ongoing for another 40 years," Mickelsen said.
He needs volunteers from the younger generation to step up and make a commitment to carrying on the tradition for those in need.
Mickelsen wants people to commit to one or two hours a month and see if they like it, "It isn't that we're asking for a full-time job or 40 hours a week or 40 hours a month."
For more information visit: www.theturkeyclub.org .