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Pandemic Limitations Won't Stop the Big Heart Brigade from Bestowing Big Blessings on Local Families This Thanksgiving

Big Heart Brigade of the Treasure Coast volunteers
Tania Ortega-Cowan
Big Heart Brigade of the Treasure Coast volunteers

Take a trip to St. Lucie County Fire District to see what the Big Heart Brigade of the Treasure Coast has cooking for local families in need.

On Monday we took a trip to the St. Lucie County Fire District to meet up with the Big Heart Brigade of the Treasure Coast, a nonprofit that feeds local families in need each Thanksgiving since 1992.

A dozen volunteers are outside, sorting and packaging food.

PS: We see a big need. We’re out on the streets. And we go into people’s houses and we see that there’s a need.

Paul Smith is a St. Lucie County firefighter.

PS: Almost 30 years.

TOC: And are you from the area too?

PS: Born and raised – Fort Pierce. So, we try to meet that need. And um its only one day! They still have that same need every day, so we try to do our part, especially during holidays where people are the saddest sometimes when they don’t have what they need.

Typically, they serve hot meals, which requires 100s of volunteers helping out all week cooking all of the turkeys. The pandemic made this approach impossible. Here’s Brenda Stokes. She’s the public information officer for the St Lucie Fire District.

BS: This year they get a frozen turkey and the fixings to make their own Thanksgiving. So, this just eliminates having so many volunteers. And we’re actually feeding more families I think this year.

Next, we meet Joe Payne. He’s the Big Heart Brigade past president who’s in charge of today’s operation, and he’s also a Treasure Coast native.

JP: Yep. Born and raised here. Been a firefighter for 19 years.

Kimberly Jay and Janet Rudd
Tania Ortega-Cowan
Kimberly Jay and Janet Rudd

We walk past pallets of nonperishable food.

JP: Starting here we have our whole pallets of stuffing. These are going to be packs of mashed potatoes.

There’s corn muffin mix, and canned corn and green beans. Instant gravy packets. And frozen turkeys in a giant refrigerated truck. They purchased 1500 turkeys.

BS: Cleveland Clinic Tradition - they gave us $4000 this year.

Add to that, Lawnwood Regional Medical Center donated 700 more turkeys.

JP: So, we’ve got plenty of food to hand out to the community.

(sound) So, this is all one order? Yes. So, Jimmy, will you bring that one this way?

We notice turkeys in the giant cooker too. Turns out, they’re giving 130 cooked turkeys to Mustard Seed Ministries for their outreach dinner.

RB: I’m a retiree from a long time ago from here. I’m Roland Bergeron.

He served 30 years with St. Lucie County Fire, and 36 with the Army and Coast Guard.

RB: You’ll see shortly, they’re going to set up the line. They’re going to put the turkeys out. We’re going to clean them up here.

The volunteers are now moving from their packing jobs to the assembly line to prepare the next round of the roasting turkeys.

Ryan Jay, Jimmy Rudd and Paul Trabulsy
Tania Ortega-Cowan
Ryan Jay, Jimmy Rudd and Paul Trabulsy

Kimberly Jay. Ryan Jay. Carl Trabulsy. Janet Rudd.

We ask Rudd how long she has volunteered with the group.

JR: Many years. I don’t even know how many.

JP: It’s been a long time, Janet.

JR: A Long time. Maybe 15-20 years? I was a firefighter/paramedic but now I’m retired. And so was my husband. Jimmy Rudd.

Angie and Brady Coney are here for the first time. Brady is 10.

AC: A good way to start our holiday helping out, I thought so…

Angie and Brady Coney
Tania Ortega-Cowan
Angie and Brady Coney

JP: You can be the seasoner!

BC: The seasoner! All right.

KG: Kelsey Grace.

JP: She’s been helping us for years. Yep.

TOC: Yeah? How long?

KG: Probably 10 years… yeah.

Other: She’s 16.

Kelsey Grace
Tania Ortega-Cowan
Kelsey Grace

She is misting broth on the birds with a hand sprayer.

JP: Gives them a nice tan. It does! It makes it nice and brown and crispy.

At the end of the line they’re loaded into aluminum roasting pans.

JP: Hopefully they’ll cook ‘em and not burn ‘em.

We think about what it all means.

JP: Fill their bellies and their hearts.

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