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story.lead_photo.caption Invictus Marketing has teamed with United Healthcare to donate $5,000 to the Samaritan Center in Jefferson City to help with this year's high demand for food. Pictured from left to right are: Shelby Miller, UHC; Aura Velasquez, Cody Amos, Travis LePage, Chris Sneller and Scott Amos, all of Invictus Health and Wealth. Photo by Julie Smith / News Tribune.

The costs for turkeys is going up and a local food pantry will be taking advantage of a large donation to help Jefferson City area families enjoy a traditional meal during the holidays.

On Monday, Invictus Marketing teamed with United Healthcare to donate $5,000 to the Samaritan Center to help with this year's high demand for food.

"We were able to make a similar donation around this same time three years ago so we wanted to do it again, knowing that the price of turkeys has increased and a lot of our members will be receiving them," said Shelby Miller, United Healthcare Medicaid growth manager.

United Healthcare is the Medicaid provider in Missouri.

"The Samaritan Center is imperative to the work we do," Miller added. "Our members face food and housing insecurity, and organizations like this help keep our families fed throughout the year. Due to the pandemic, a lot of organizations have had to close and community resources haven't been able to provide in the way that they had before the pandemic. The ability of the Samaritan Center to stay open, even doing a drive-through service, has been huge benefit for our members in Jefferson City."

Miller said they have close to 250,000 members in Missouri with Cole, Boone and Callaway counties being one of the larger concentrated areas.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average wholesale price of an 8- to 16-pound frozen turkey in mid-November was $1.35 per pound, up 21 percent from a year ago. The price jump is attributed to a number of factors, including increased costs for labor, transportation, packaging materials and energy to fuel the processing plants.

"It's harder to get the smaller birds this year so we've been having to give out larger birds, which means they cost more," Samaritan Center Operations Manager Ben DeFeo said.

DeFeo said their numbers were slightly down for people coming in for food from where they were pre-pandemic.

"Coming into today, we've given out a little over 900 birds," DeFeo said. "A high year, we would be giving out 1,600 and a normal year around 1,300. So while we'll be a little below normal, we're giving out quite a few, and with the increased costs, this money really helps. We'll probably give out around 1,100 this year."

Anything that's not given out before Thanksgiving will be used to help during the Christmas season, DeFeo said. As far as what happens during a normal week, DeFeo said the numbers have been very erratic.

"Day-to-day numbers are hard to predict, and some of that I think is due to the pandemic," DeFeo said. "Some days are busy and some days are just dead. It's hard to figure out what is going on. That complicates things when you're ordering supplies, especially traditional items like turkeys. You want to make sure you have enough if you're busy, but you don't want things sitting around."

The center has a chart of how many families it serves each day. DeFeo said they have gotten as high as 80 on some days and as low as 37. The pantry has five chances for families to come and get food from the pantry on East McCarty Street each week, two of those come on Thursdays.

DeFeo said the center can take donations Monday through Friday and the best time to drop them off is in the morning. For monetary donations, those can be made at midmosamaritan .org. Checks can also be mailed to the center at 1310 E McCarty St, Jefferson City, MO 65101.

"Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to get routine updates on what we're in need of," DeFeo added. "Right now, we're asking for food items that a kid could open and eat easily — SpaghettiOs and ravioli are popular along with the Easy Mac macaroni and cheese."

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