By Marshal D. Haneisen
For many families, the holiday season is about traditions, special activities repeated year after year to create memories and add depth and meaning to the season. Two California moms looking to bring more meaning to November have created a new tradition -- Turkey on the Table. This cute, creative book and turkey kit encourage families to recognize the gifts in their lives and express gratitude throughout the month.
Nearly five years ago, April George, her husband, and two daughters relocated from Tennessee to California. Within weeks of moving, she met mother of three Kerry Maunus, and the two became fast friends. One day, the women were talking about today's materialistic culture and its effect on children.
"Everything is so in-your-face about what kids have to have and at younger ages than ever. We want our kids to appreciate the simple things in life, like a house, clothes, a cozy bed," George said. "We wanted to promote some sort of awareness and gratitude."
As they entered the 2013 holiday season, the women talked about how Thanksgiving is their favorite holiday, a time when the focus is not on gifts, but about being surrounded by loved ones.
"We thought, how can we get this idea across to our kids before the holiday wish lists come out in December?" George said.
The project began with Maunus writing a children's book, Turkey on the Table, but the biggest challenge was to come.
"The hardest part was making the turkey sample. We wanted it to be nice enough to work as home décor through the month of November. We didn't want it to be cheesy or too big, but we also wanted it to be cute enough that kids identified with it," Maunus said.
Over the next two years, they worked on the turkey design, even hiring a professional prototype designer.
"We had a lot of bad samples...we had a turkey graveyard," she said.
One day, George's husband sat down with a Styrofoam ball and started carving. Ten hours later, the prototype was complete.
"Once the prototype was done, we wanted to be fast and made it for the 2015 Thanksgiving season," George noted. How it works The idea of Turkey on the Table is simple. Place the turkey in a visible location in early November. Each day, family members write something for which they are thankful on a paper feather, and insert it into the turkey to create a tail full of Thankful Feathers by the holiday.
The feathers are made of cardstock and come in several designs. Replacement feathers can be purchased online, so the turkey can be reused each year. Many have asked the creators why they didn't make the feathers dry erase, so they could be written on, wiped off, and reused year after year. The choice of using paper was intentional, as Maunus and George view the feathers as keepsakes. Parents can look back and see how a child's handwriting -- and the things for which they are thankful -- change over time.
"They are a keepsake. You can stick them in an envelope and save them. It is a sort of lazy mom scrapbooking," Maunus laughed.
The women are also designing an assortment of turkey accessories. In fact, a Santa hat is already available on their website, which might serve as a visual for transferring the gratitude of November into the generosity of December.
While Turkey on the Table was designed for families, it could also be used in classrooms, church groups, or by therapists. Giving back, fighting hunger Early into the project, the women knew they wanted to partner with Chicago-based Feeding America, a hunger relief organization, and arranged a call before their first retail season.
"The representative from Feeding America sent us the list of what it takes to be a corporate partner. The expectations were lofty because they were intended more for larger corporations. But they said they love everything about our product and wanted to be a partner right from the start," George said. "They took us on when we hadn't even sold a turkey."
The duo are proud of their partnership with the non-profit, which provides 10 meals to people in need with each Turkey on the Table that is sold. To date, more than 435,000 meals have been donated by Turkey on the Table through their partnership with the organization.
The Turkey on the Table kit, including the book, turkey, and a supply of feathers, can be purchased online at turkeyonthetable.com for $39.99. It can also be found in 1,800 stores nationwide, including several in Massachusetts. To find a retailer near you, click here.
Marshal D. Haneisen is a freelance journalist, writer, and creative writing instructor. She lives in Fitchburg with her husband, son, and a variety of pets. Her son has a dual-diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism, and her experience as a parent of a child with special needs inspires some of her writing for various publications, as well as for her blog, thespecialneedsfiles.com. Information about Marshal's writing and workshops can be found marshaldhaneisen.com.