The name is the same, the core menu items are tried-and-true originals and many of the original participants – including event founders Davin Joseph and Jeremy Trueblood – are still very much involved. Even the endearingly goofy cartoon turkeys in the event's logo are back to greet all comers, just as they have every November for the last five years.
There is one thing, however, that never stays the same with the "Turkey Time with the O-Line" event the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offensive line has been staging since 2007: It just keeps getting bigger.
The fifth annual Turkey Time event, one of the Buccaneers' most anticipated community events every fall, took place on Tuesday evening at One Buccaneer Place, the team headquarters located about a mile from Raymond James Stadium. By now, the event's opening sight is familiar – a double line of vehicles stretching from the front of the building out along a curving road and almost all the way back to the stadium.
In each car is at least one family on hand to receive a full Thanksgiving feast, including the centerpiece turkey, donated by Joseph, Trueblood and company and their long-running event partner, Publix Super Markets. This year, Feeding America of Tampa Bay also pitched in, providing a good portion of the side items in every meal, and United Way volunteers also were on hand to help out.
This year's line matched last year's, with more than 650 visitors holding vouchers for the Turkey Time donations, but the 2011 event had an even greater impact because the Buc linemen elected to provide fuller, more hearty meals than they ever had in the past.
"We're going to try to make it bigger every year, as long as we're blessed to be here," said Joseph. "Even if something happens and we're not here, hopefully we've established something that O-Linemen in Tampa can do from here on out. We're blessed individuals and we just want to give back.
"We've established something here that means something to the Buccaneers, means something to the community and of course means something in the O-Line room. We've managed to keep it rolling, so we wanted to do a little something extra, so we beefed up the meals this year and we have some giveaways. I'm just thankful for all of the volunteers, all of the people that contributed to the event, because it's beautiful to see everybody give back during the holiday season.
For many Bay area families who have fallen on hard times, Turkey Time with the O-Line is a big help, making a traditional Thanksgiving dinner possible. Each family that came through the line in front of One Buc Place was given a large turkey, a bag of side items and fixings and a tasty pumpkin pie. This year's turkeys were roughly a third bigger than what was donated last year, each one between 14 and 16 pounds. Other new items in the meal this year included stuffing for the turkey, canned corn, additional vegetables and cookies handed out on the side by another Buccaneer partner, Lance-Snyder.
"Publix has been involved with Turkey Time with the O-Line for five years now, and it's an incredible event and one that we look forward to participating in every fall," said Publix spokesperson Shannon Patten. "Every year, we aim to make things a little bit better and a little bit bigger, so that our neighbors in need can have a very Happy Thanksgiving. There's no doubt that it happened again this year."
Joseph and Trueblood came up with the Turkey Time program in their second year in the league – both were 2006 draft choices – and have since involved their entire position group. Center Jeff Faine and tackle Donald Penn have become core contributors as well, but every member of the O-Line was on hand Tuesday to help out. From practice squad tackle Chris Riley to second-year guard/tackle Derek Hardman, the Bucs' big men roamed the front drive at One Buc, hauling turkeys into the visitors' backseats and offering holiday good wishes.
Hardman, who originally joined the Bucs as an undrafted free agent last year, has proved himself as an NFL-caliber player but he says the example set by Joseph and Trueblood has helped him understand the importance of community work as well.
"The leadership of Davin and Jeremy doing something like this really shows us how to be a good community member and how to be a part of Tampa," said Hardman. "We're proud of them and we're proud to be a part of it. I've only been here two years but I'm looking forward to some more years of giving away turkeys. Davin makes a lot of the decisions on this, but he knew that we were willing to do whatever he told us. He knew that we feel that if it's for the community, for people in need, then the O-Line wants to make it happen."
As usual, the event had a festive feel to it, even as the hundreds of families worked through the line as quickly as possible to make room for the next people in line. There was dance music, of course, and a group of Buccaneers Cheerleaders came by to help in the process and meet some very appreciative fans. Providing comic relief, as always, was team mascot Captain Fear.
In addition, some lucky fans got more than a meal. Feeling that their Turkey Time event had a little extra significance in 2011, as it hit its fifth year, Joseph and Trueblood decided to add to the giveaways. In addition to the aforementioned heartier meals, the linemen also arrived with a variety of extra gifts to be randomly handed out. These included Turkey Time t-shirts, official Buccaneers hats and even authentic footballs autographed by the entire O-Line.
Three-year-old Janai Clarkson found himself in possession of one of those footballs after his family pulled through the line, and it matched perfectly with his Buc shirt and pewter helmet. A budding Buc fanatic, Janai accompanied his mother and aunt to One Buc Place on Tuesday more for the opportunity to meet his heroes than to grab a pumpkin pie.
Triciana Rucker, Janai's aunt, hauled him up from the backseat of her van so that he could step out of the vehicle and take pictures with Joseph and Penn. Penn responded by grabbing the autographed football off a nearby table, as well as a couple t-shirts and a set of four tickets to the Buccaneers' upcoming game against the Carolina Panthers. The whole family couldn't have been more thrilled…especially little Janai.
"It means so much to him," said Rucker. "This shows us that the Buccaneer players have a very human side. There's more to them than just entertainment. They really care about the community. It means a lot to us."
Of course, the big meal packed into Rucker's van was also important, and it will make their holiday week a little easier and more enjoyable.
"With times being hard and finances kind of tight, it's a big help," she said. "We really appreciate it.
Sprinkled in among the many family cars in line were a variety of vans sent by service organizations to pick up donations for several families. A handful of families without access to vehicles took buses to a nearby stop and gathered in the lobby, where they had their meals delivered to them by tackle James Lee. All those who came to One Buc on Tuesday had vouchers that were distributed to local charitable organizations by the United Way, and all left with big smiles.
Over its five years, the Turkey Time program has now helped approximately 2,900 families in the Bay area. Joseph and Trueblood, both of whom signed new deals with the Buccaneers prior to the 2011 season, hope it continues to grow in years to come. That is sure to happen as long as they remember how it feels to help out in such a hands-on manner every November.
"You can always give money, but you've got to give your time, too. Sometimes time is just as important as money. Of course, with this being one of our signature events – this is probably my biggest event of the year – I want to be a part of it and feel like I'm giving of my time, also."