Free Turkey

Merry Christmas. That’s the phrase of the day. We’ve used it a hundred times within the last few hours. But today, it doesn’t mean what it usually means. It means more.

Dothan, Alabama—the day before Christmas Eve. It’s a humid 74 degrees outside. I’m sweating.

Welcome to South Alabama in December.

I’m in a truck with a coonhound, a hospice nurse, and an unruly Episcopalian. My wife is our driver. We’re delivering cooked Christmas turkeys to anyone who makes eye-contact with us.

My delivery partner is Katie—nurse and highly-decorated comedian. We’re appearing on doorsteps in rough parts of town. Homes with rotten clapboards, blue tarps on roofs, and old sofas on porches.

We enter an apartment. It’s a cracker box filled with cigarette smoke and concrete floors. A nine-year-old girl named Zion lives here with her granny. Her hair is in cornrows.

Granny is on an oxygen tank, smoking a Menthol Slim.

“Hi, Zion,” I say.

She’s shy.

So, I hand her a turkey as big as her granny. She hugs the foil-wrapped thing.

“Merry Christmas,” whispers Zion.

The purest words I have ever heard.

We deliver to an elderly man who has two teeth. He’s tall, skin like rawhide. He’s sitting on a recliner in his driveway.

We hand him a turkey; his face is a lightbulb.

“May Kissmuss,” he says.

Same to you, sir.

We deliver to the government housing apartments. It’s a rough neighborhood. And I mean rough.

Think: glass pipes sitting on coffee tables, and six-year-olds playing with broken toys.

“Merry Christmas,” one little girl says.

Her siblings say the same.

That’s the phrase of the day. We’ve used it a hundred times within the last few hours. But today, it doesn’t mean what it usually means. It means more.

Anyway, this turkey operation didn’t happen on its own. The past few days have been a highly orchestrated hell for those planning it. Raising money, buying supplies, training volunteers, making lists, phone calls, and of course, the cooking.

You’ve never seen so many cooked birds. There are approximately—this is only an estimate—seventeen hundred gazillion trillion turkeys.

Harry Hall started this whole operation years ago. The idea started as a small Christmas barbecue for folks in need. It wasn’t long before others got involved and it turned into a block-party.

Today, it’s a county-wide goat rodeo.

Yesterday, fleets of iron grills on flat-beds arrived. Men in camouflage hats cooked all night. Fellas drank dangerous amounts of Anheuser Busch products and filled dumpsters with poultry guts.

This morning: the turkeys hit the highways.

Multitudes of volunteers came to help. All types. Attorneys, janitors, mill workers, single mothers, electricians, waitresses, youth groups, nurses, college students, recovering addicts, and derelict writers.

“Deliveries are fun,” says one volunteer. “When you have a turkey in your hands, you’re everyone’s best friend. And you should see the kids’ faces…”

The kids.

I’ve seen my share of kids today. Good kids who are having hard times. Babies, dressed in rags. Children who are terrified of their own neighbors. Bullet holes in backyard fences.

And while I write this, I’m wondering what those kids are doing right now. I hope they’re watching TV, or eating cookies. I hope they’ve forgotten their problems for a night. I hope their tummies are full.

I don’t know where life will take them, I don’t if they’ll survive their circumstances. Odds are I won’t ever see them again.

Even so, if you should ever happen to read this, sweetie…

Merry Christmas, Zion.



  1. Janette - December 24, 2017 11:55 am

    Merry Christmas to you, your wife and coon dog. This is what Christmas is all about. ❤️?

    • Jackie Baltzell - December 24, 2017 2:56 pm


  2. Marty from Alabama - December 24, 2017 12:39 pm

    A day of doing good to those that haven’t seen good in so long, they are not sure what good is. That is hard work that has a pay stub that says: amount paid – priceless. And when all is done everyone is so tired they can hardly see straight and emotions are all over the wall. May the Father of us all richly bless each of you for your gift of time, effort and turkeys or whatever.

    MERRY CHRISTMAS, Zion and all the others. There is sunshine in their lives for one day anyway.

  3. Connie - December 24, 2017 1:05 pm

    You never know how much a Christmas dinner can mean to a child who is normally hungry. Thank God for volunteers who step up to make a good day happen. God bless you. Merry Christmas.

  4. John Coniglio - December 24, 2017 1:15 pm


  5. Maggie Perez - December 24, 2017 1:20 pm

    Thank you for telling our stories. You shine light in dark spaces while putting a human face on the issues.
    Try to keep that unruly episcopal safe. Just like you- she’s a good one.

  6. Lucretia - December 24, 2017 1:21 pm

    Merry Christmas, Zion. Merry Christmas Sean. …For unto us a child was born,. a Savior . . . and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The everlasting The Prince of Peace…

  7. Shirley Northington (Skelton) - December 24, 2017 2:31 pm

    I don’t have the words, so Merry Christmas will have to do.

  8. Billy - December 24, 2017 2:32 pm

    May God bless every one of you that made this happen it’s what God would want you to do.Jesus said to love your neighbor as your self. we need more people to be like this. What a great blessing, MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU ALL!

  9. Jackie Baltzell - December 24, 2017 2:51 pm

    Blessings to all of you. God is smiling on you now! May you all have a Merry Christmas!! Seems like you already have!!

  10. Pat Byers - December 24, 2017 3:22 pm

    I have heard the phrase for a few weeks now. And we say Merry Christmas. Not happy holidays. It IS Christmas. But I don’t think those few weeks have had the meaning sink in quite as much as your writing of this morning. Merry Christmas, with a cooked turkey. Like Shirley Northington, I just don’t have the right words.

  11. Mary C - December 24, 2017 3:24 pm

    Turkeys from Heaven truly are blessings from God.

  12. Pat - December 24, 2017 4:23 pm

    My prayers are for those children and disabled adults caught in these tragic situations, and for the others to make better decisions in life.
    Merry Christmas Zion and your grandmother!

  13. Bob Hubbard - December 24, 2017 4:40 pm

    And all God’s children said amen and amen

  14. Jack - December 24, 2017 5:40 pm

    I applaud your humanity, Sean, and look forward to your post every day…but America needs more social justice, not more seasonal charity.

  15. Connie Pritchett - December 24, 2017 6:04 pm

    Merry Christmas to you and yours, Sean!

  16. theholtgirls - December 24, 2017 6:50 pm

    In Biblical the meaning of the name Zion is: Monument; raised up. I pray this for her – she could become one who is raised up to more than she ever thought possible. If you happen to keep track of her, please let us know if she graduates high school? I will start saving for a gift for her! Merry Christmas, y’all!

  17. Debra - December 24, 2017 7:00 pm

    God bless you and Merry Christmas, Sean.

  18. Damain - December 24, 2017 7:30 pm


  19. Becky McDaniel - December 24, 2017 7:51 pm

    Turkeys From Heaven… I do this every about every year in Dothan Al,
    It’s my heart , I’ve never been one for money donations. really you don’t know where it goes ,I hate to say that but I love this I love to put in the time it’s a very emotional thing and you feel like you’ve really done something it’s rewarding for your soul, Super glad you also enjoyed the experience Sean and it is an awesome experience to be had .

  20. Jack Darnell - December 24, 2017 9:44 pm

    I always enjoy the visit. I will not be alone. I have my lovely wife of 61 years. Every Christmas we figured how to be together. That is through tours in the USMC>USAF>USN. I have never had the privilege of this type of volunteering. But bless you and the rest, for your time and THIS STORY!

  21. Jody - December 24, 2017 11:48 pm

    To be the hands and heart of our Lord is a blessing

  22. CaroG87 - December 25, 2017 1:44 am

    Oh my….. just tears.

  23. Gary B - December 27, 2017 5:18 am

    Good work, It’s always better to give then receive. I might know that unruly Episcopalian. I didn’t know Dotham City has neighbor hoods that bad. Things sure have change in last 38 years since I grew up there.


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