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A frustrating local turkey tale shows why it's often better to give money instead of food

Master Sgt. Terry Best doesn't sweat the big stuff. His day job is helping to ensure every branch of the military has what it takes to fend off a major terrorist attack. But the cool-headed, camo-clad desk worker almost lost it the other day at a supermarket.

Over a load of frozen turkeys.

Despite his "secret agent man" credentials, Best comes across as a gentle type. He has pleasant, light eyes and his office contains pictures of his three daughters. He says that he always tries to do something charitable for the holidays; last year he dressed up as an elf and handed out presents to needy kids.

This year the holiday spirit hit him early, and he took up an office collection to purchase turkeys for Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado. After gathering about $110, he headed to the South Academy Boulevard King Soopers, which was having a $6 turkey sale. But after frustrating conversations with several employees and a manager, Best, who was in uniform, left the store empty-handed and disappointed.

Turns out the turkeys were limited to one per customer. Even if it was for charity.

"It was supposed to be a good thing," Best remembers telling his co-worker. "Now it's an ugly thing."

Enter Wal-Mart, some of whose own employees famously have qualified for food assistance. After Best called the Eighth Street store and related his tale, management agreed to sell him Butterballs for 35 cents a pound. With additional dollars from coworkers at JADO-H (Joint Air Defense Operations for the Homeland) and workers at the Army Space Command's Functional Area 40, Best was able to purchase 77 turkeys for needy families.

The store gave Best the star treatment — opening a special checkout line for him, storing and boxing the turkeys, and loading them for delivery on Nov. 20, the day of Wal-Mart's Care and Share turkey drive.

Best notes, "It turned from an ugly day to a great day."

As it turns out, Best's adventure in grocery-store giving was the result of corporate policies. In this case, King Soopers' $6 turkeys were sold below cost, spokesperson Kelli McGannon explains, so a limit is firmly enforced. Wal-Mart, meanwhile, allows managers to make judgment calls on turkey prices.

Interestingly, both corporations are big givers to Care and Share. Food bank resource manager Don Lloyd says that as of mid-November, metro Wal-Mart stores had given more than 440,000 pounds of food this year. During the same time, Springs King Soopers stores gave more than 340,000 pounds. Both chains' donations far outweigh the smaller contributions from other stores.

Of course, none of this made much of a difference to Best, who just wanted to buy his turkeys and get on with it. For others experiencing a similar predicament, there is an easier way: Donate money.

"Every dollar donated to Care and Share can provide five meals to an individual, or it can procure up to 10 pounds of food," food bank events manager Shannon Coker says, explaining that the organization can stretch its money by buying in bulk.

Care and Share has earned a top rating from independent evaluator Charity Navigator, a sign that the organization is putting dollars to good use. The holiday giving season is a make-or-break time for it and other similar organizations, and donating can be done online at careandshare.org.

And, hey, if you really want to buy the turkey, you can also check under the Web site's "Event" tab for holiday drop-off locations.

stanley@csindy.com

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