Up to 100,000 people - many of them senior citizens and families in need - have been fed a Thanksgiving dinner over four decades of the Stormin' Norman Oliver Thanksgiving Turkey Giveaway.
Tuesday's visit to about a dozen senior high-rises was the last one led by the former City Council member, who recently announced that the 40th giveaway would be the last one he would lead. Elected officials turned out to present tributes, resolutions and proclamations for Oliver at Herlihy Apartments, as residents signed up for their turkeys.
According to Oliver, what grew into an annual effort to help thousands of individuals and families involving contributions from supermarket chains and other companies and individuals - as well as a fleet of volunteers including students - started out small.
"I would take some dinners to the homeless shelter that my mother would cook and we fed about four or five people," Oliver said. Some of those meals were actually served under bridges where the homeless would congregate. Future dinners would be held at the Henrietta Johnson Medical Center. Then, corporations and individuals would begin to donate turkeys and it truly established itself as a Wilmington Thanksgiving tradition.
"It's just an honor. When you start, I didn't know it was going to blossom into something like this," Oliver said.
Rachelle Grimes, leader of the Herlihy Apartments residents council, presented Oliver with a memento of appreciation in the crowded lobby Tuesday.
"It's a tremendous blessing. Some folks are unable to afford a turkey especially in these days and times," Grimes said.
Grimes was concerned when it was learned that Oliver would give up the reins of the turkey giveaway, but is grateful that someone, Ivan Thomas, is stepping up to carry on the tradition in 2023 and beyond.
Oliver plans to be involved in some way in the future, adding that there seems to be a growing need.
"Sometimes people can be proud, it's almost like the working poor, you hate to say it like that," Oliver said.
But always, the Stormin' Norman Oliver Turkey Giveaway helps all comers and has not turned anyone away.
We haven't, in 40 years."
About Norman Oliver (submitted biography)
Norman “Stormin” Oliver is a Delaware native and grew up on the rough and tough streets of Wilmington’s Southbridge neighborhood along with his four brothers and four sisters. He was raised by his mother, Zanthia Oliver, with whom he was very close. Norman attended Wilmington High School for two years before being transferred to Newark High School after desegregation. One football coach there started calling him “Stormin Norman” and the nickname stuck. After Newark High School Norman attended Delaware State University and was elected President of the freshman class and President of his fraternity. During his college years he received several awards for leadership and community service and earned his graduate degree in social work in 1985. He was a Wilmington City Councilman of the 4th District from 1992- 2004, he served as Chairman of the Wilmington Democratic Party and started the Turkey Drive and Give Away in a much simpler fashion 40 years ago by delivering meals to homeless persons living under area bridges. Today with several dozen community partners, friends, family and high school volunteers, the Turkey Drive has grown to allow Norman and his supporters to donate and deliver approximately over 1400 turkeys to seniors in Delaware for Thanksgiving this year. For more information, visit www.ouryouthinc.org.
Supporters of the Turkey Giveaway (list submitted)
In addition to Food Lion, other sponsors and supporters of the event include: Breakthru Beverage, Multiplying Good, New Castle County Pan-Hellenic Council, UnitedHealthcare, United Way of Delaware, 100 Coconuts, The Honorable John Carney The Honorable Michael Purzycki, The Honorable Bethany Hall Long, Honorable Tom Carper, The Honorable Chris Coons The Honorable Lisa Blunt Rochester, Attorney General Kathleen Jennings, New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer, Wilmington City Council President Trippi Congo, Spencer Dunkley, the Glasgow High School Basketball Team, the Newark High School Basketball Team and the Wilmington City Police.