Thanksgiving operation will provide 1,200 turkeys this year

Operation Give Birds volunteers distribute food during their 2021 drive, which gave 1,000 meals to families in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and Waterloo. (Angie Cook)

Five years after it started, Thanksgiving prank expands to 1,200 turkey meals for those in need

CEDAR RAPIDS — Five years after a Thanksgiving prank, a group of friends have given “feeding the bird” a whole new meaning.

What started as an Austin Hermsen prank in 2017, when a friend posted an article on Craigslist advertising free turkeys, has turned into a full-fledged nonprofit. This year it is even bigger.

The Give Birds operation gave 80 turkeys in its first year. This year, the operation has grown to 1,200 meal giveaways — including 800 for Cedar Rapids — and is expanding to another city.

With steady and continued growth each year, it may be one of the oldest nonprofit pranks in eastern Iowa.

If you are going to

What: The Sixth Annual Iowa Giving Crew Give Birds

Cedar Rapids: 850 32nd Ave. SW (now closed)

City of Iowa: 470 Ruppert Road.

Waterloo: 125 Courier Street

Dubuque: 2300 Kerper Blvd.

When: Noon to 2 p.m. on Sunday, November 20

To receive a meal: Register online via the Operation Giving Birds Facebook page. Meals are still available in Iowa City, Waterloo and Dubuque

Make a donation: Donations to the efforts of the Iowa Giving Crew can be made through their website at, via PayPal at [email protected], or via Venmo at the Iowa-Givingcrew handle. A donation of $35 feeds a family of four.

Since becoming an official 501(c)3 nonprofit in 2019, the Iowa Giving Crew has expanded its Thanksgiving giveaway for food-insecure families to Iowa City in 2020 and Waterloo in 2021. This year, Operation Give Birds will distribute turkeys in Dubuque, too.

“The ability to build at scale has really materialized due to us being a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, which opens up avenues for fundraising and donations,” said Nick Dusil, President of Iowa Giving Crew, the organization that runs Operation Give. Birds.

In 2017, the operation started in a garage with a few friends raising money to help families in Cedar Rapids. Now, with Hy-Vee as the supplier and a partnership through Van Meter Inc. in Cedar Rapids, the Dubuque addition was “a plug and play situation,” Dusil said.

There, meals are packed and assembled on pallets for distribution to the operation’s four sites, where needs have increased significantly since 2017.

“In recent years, we have grown. We have reached a saturation point of 600 meals for Cedar Rapids needs,” said the president, who has seen a significant increase in demand over the past year, attributed in part to inflation and rising costs. “It’s getting harder and harder for people to get food.”

This year, 800 people signed up for meals at Cedar Rapids and no more slots are available. The other 400 meals will be distributed by the all-volunteer run organization at their points in Dubuque, Iowa City and Waterloo where meals are still available. People in need can Register online via a link on the Facebook page of the Give Birds operation.

Donations to the efforts of the Iowa Giving Crew can be made through their website at, via PayPal at [email protected], or via Venmo at the Iowa-Givingcrew handle. A donation of $35 feeds a family of four.

Since forming as a nonprofit and getting more funding after the derecho, Iowa Giving Crew launched Operation Education, which helps students eat lunch in areas where funding for traditional meals is not enough. They also launched Operation Iowa Nice, which works with nonprofits to help customers who face barriers to success such as auto repairs and childcare.

“We can’t do this without our donors and volunteers,” Dusil said. “I would like to thank them for their contributions and their trust. We will honor their charitable contributions.

Comments: (319) 398-8340; [email protected]

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