Making life better for people with diabetes may just be for the birds. Bear with us here: A Wisconsin family with a history of raising prize turkeys has found away to combine that hobby with funding diabetes programs, from JDRF to camps for kids with diabetes.
When their daughter Gracie was diagnosed with Type 1 at six years old back in 2010, the Steinmeyer family experienced the usual shock, said mom Jennifer. At first they focused on learning the ropes of day-to-day life with diabetes. But as time went on, they wanted to do more, and began doing JDRF Walks. Raising funds wasn’t easy, until they realized the answer was right out in their backyard pen: their prize turkeys that sell each year at the county fair.
“My husband Troy grew up raising turkeys, so we do now,” said Jennifer. “In 2015 he said, ‘hey: let’s try winning the grand champion turkey and then sell it for our walk team.’”
They set at it, ordering three-day-old chicks from a hatchery and then nursing them in their basement under heat lamps. “Turkey are notoriously stupid,” said Jennifer. “You have to dip their beaks in water to show them that it is there.” They don’t all survive: of 15 to 20 chicks, they ended up with eight to grow.
And grow they did, one growing to be about 26 pounds. They raise White Broad Breasted Turkeys, a popular and hearty breed.
At the show – a local annual fair, judges look at the turkey’s size and condition of their feathers (and each turkey has a cleansing bath before. “Yeah, it’s really fun to try to bath a turkey,” said Jennifer, “but it was for the sake of a cause.”
The family won – and that first year, their overall winner brought in $850 from a bidder who had a connection: a friend of theirs from high school who lost his dad to diabetes and now had a nephew newly diagnosed. The second place turkey, also raised by their family, brought in $650. Before they knew it, everyone with a bird of some kind up for auction was offering their funds to the cause.
This past year, the idea really caught on and the fair, once a struggling one, drew a huge crowd, many there to see just how much the turkeys would bring in. The total? More than $4,000, which the family donated to the Cammie Johnson Memorial Fund, a fund named for a young woman who lost her battle to diabetes years back, and that sends kids with diabetes to camps such as the Chris Dudley Basketball Camp and helps with the cost of medical supplies for struggling local families.
“It was amazing,” said Jennifer. “One chicken someone brought and donated was purchased and donated back 12 times, for a total of $1,500 from one chicken. Coincidentally, Jennifer was picking up Gracie from the Chris Dudley camp when it all went down.
“I got off the plane and my phone just lit up,” she said of the news of raising so much. “I burst into tears.”
Gracie’s reaction? “She’s a teen so you never really know, but I think she’s thinks it is pretty cool.”
Troy, who was there showing the turkeys and witnessing the bidding, said “I still get chills when I talk about it. The support that you feel from your community when something like this happens is just incredible. You know, in the news you hear about so many bad things happening. Well: this is just all good. I never would have thought my family teaching me to raise turkeys would help my child and all people with diabetes one day.”
Now, the turkey bidding has become legendary, with folks coming to see how much people pony up, and the excitement around it. That, Jennifer said, has boosted the success of the entire fair, which had been floundering for a time.
“Everyone in town comes now to see what the turkey is going to bring in. It used to be the steer or the pig. Now, in our town, it’s the turkey.”
All four of the family children help with the raising of the turkeys, competing with each other to raise the champion. When the time comes for the turkey to leave, are they ever sad? “No,” said Jennifer. “Turkeys are not very cuddly.”
The family plans on continuing the tradition. “I don’t think we can not do it now,” said Jennifer.” But it’s fun. It’s a fun and unique way for a small town to help a family and the world.”