When most of us are sitting down to our turkey dinners today, 60-year-old Danny Davey of Santa Ana will be handing out the last of the nine tons of food that he and a handful of Orange County volunteers have spent the past five days delivering to 6,000 Navajo and Hopi Indians on reservations in northern Arizona.
Although Davey has almost lost count, this year will be "about the 30th Thanksgiving" he has made the 1,500-mile trek (round trip) in borrowed pickup trucks and rented trailers to deliver turkeys, stuffing and all the trimmings to the people he calls "the original Americans."
Davey, compact, wiry and full of youthful energy, minimizes what is essentially a one-man crusade by shrugging and saying only: "It's my hobby. I don't play golf. I don't collect wives." He turns his hands palms up and smiles. "This is what I do."
At 10 a.m. on the Saturday before Thanksgiving at a rented Santa Ana warehouse, Davey and half a dozen volunteers are busy packing 150 frozen turkeys into barrels of dry ice, sorting hundreds of cases of canned yams and hundreds of boxes of stuffing, and packing cartons of donated winter clothing. The caravan of four trucks and three trailers would leave for Arizona the following day at 2 p.m.
Davey, in blue jeans, button-up shirt and baseball cap, is tossing boxes of plastic spoons and forks into the back of Joe House's pickup truck. House, a Navajo who lives and works in Orange County, will be one of the caravan drivers. "Don't forget the Kool-Aid and the turkey pans," Davey says as House pauses to survey the remaining cardboard boxes. "And the dehydrated potatoes."
House, who grew up on a reservation in Arizona, became involved in Davey's nonprofit Thunderbird Foundation eight years ago.
"He (House) is the only Navajo who lives near me," Davey says, smiling. "And every year he takes his vacation just like I do and heads for Indian country."
Started in 1949
Davey, a United Parcel Service deliveryman, has "been heading for Indian country" regularly since he unexpectedly confronted hunger in northern Arizona in 1949. He was on a hunting trip when he met four Indians near starvation who asked him if he could share some food. That meeting reminded him of a vow he had made after a brush with death during World War II when he was in the U.S. Navy. Davey had lost a brother and several friends--and nearly lost his own life--during a battle in the Pacific. After that, he vowed to "give my thanks for living by helping others." So shortly after the hunting trip, he and his wife, Peggy, began collecting food and clothing and making deliveries to poverty-stricken Hopi and Navajo Indians living on reservations in Arizona.
Around 1955, Davey organized his first large-scale Thanksgiving trip. Word of Davey's work spread and, in 1958, he was honored on the television program "This Is Your Life." During the early '60s, newspapers and magazines also reported on Davey's work and, as a result, several community organizations donated money, food and clothing. Eventually, the nonprofit Thunderbird Foundation was formed, volunteers became involved and Davey added trips at Christmas and Easter as well as other times of the year.
(Donations of money, food, toys or clothing for the Christmas trip may be made to the Thunderbird Foundation, 1306 N. Mar-Les Drive, Santa Ana, 92706.)
'It Just Grew and Grew'
"I started out helping three families," Davey says, refusing to take a break from his work at the warehouse. "Every year it just grew and grew. We'll feed 6,000 people this year."
When there is work to be done, it's difficult to get Davey, a quiet, self-effacing man, to sit down and talk about himself and his unusual "hobby." He would rather talk about dedicated volunteers such as Bud Hohl, secretary and treasurer of the Thunderbird Foundation and the man responsible for buying all the food for this year's Thanksgiving feast with money donated to the Foundation.
Hohl, who has been working with Davey since 1962, is a retired Marine from Costa Mesa. He was among those who helped Davey organize his most unusual Thanksgiving delivery one November in the early '60s.
"There was a blizzard that year, and the trucks couldn't get through," Hohl recalls, "so with the help of the Marines, we airdropped everything."
A Special Delivery
Davey remembers that winter delivery as "Operation Snow Drift."
Like Bud Hohl, several other retired Marines, including Willson Price and his wife, Rose, both Navajos, have become year-round volunteers.
"We all do this from our hearts," says Hohl, who along with Davey and House is one of this year's seven volunteer caravan drivers. "But the truth of it all is Danny. He is it--365 days a year."
Walking out of the warehouse with another box, Davey, his slight frame seeming even smaller in contrast to Hohl's taller, broader figure, stops. "Hey, Bud, that truck you got, what's in it?"
"Turkeys," Hohl says.