Turkey Bowl aims to strike out hunger

A TransPac Aviation student watches his makeshift bowling lane during the school's first Turkey Bowl Nov. 19. Surrounding festivities including a Thanksgiving meal and a food drive raised benefited St. Vincent de Paul. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
A TransPac Aviation student takes his turn during the school’s first Turkey Bowl Nov. 19. Surrounding festivities including a Thanksgiving meal and a food drive raised benefited St. Vincent de Paul. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

Frightened children often learn during a thunderstorm that the angels are fairly good bowlers. Apparently aspiring airline pilots looking to take to the friendly — but sometimes stormy — skies are too.

Despite being new to the sport, several dozen students at TransPac Aviation Academy threw strikes during the school’s first Turkey Bowl Nov. 19. Some 80 percent of its students hail from countries such as Taiwan and China and only knew about bowling what they recently found in online videos.

A TransPac Aviation student ensures proper form during his school's first Turkey Bowl Nov. 19. Those who threw a strike entered a raffle to win an outing to a real bowling alley. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
A TransPac Aviation student ensures proper form during his school’s first Turkey Bowl Nov. 19. Those who threw a strike entered a raffle to win an outing to a real bowling alley. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

The Turkey Bowl featured makeshift bowling lanes outside of the academy’s maintenance hangar. Two plastic sheet-lined lanes covered in nonstick cooking spray had cinder blocks as gutters. Frozen turkeys served as the bowling ball with student representative manually resetting the pins.

Those who threw strikes earned an entry into a drawing to win a school-sponsored trip to a real bowling alley. Though a main attraction, the Turkey Bowl made up a small sliver of TransPac’s Thanksgiving celebration.

The larger part focused on the food: both the feast itself, since it was the first time many students savored a traditional U.S. Thanksgiving meal, and an innovative way the aviation school helped those in the community who would otherwise go hungry.

Some 500 aviation students and staff feasted on turkey, ham, green beans, potatoes, salad and pumpkin pie inside the academy’s maintenance hangar all catered by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Caterers substituted stuffing with rice.

Even though St. Vincent de Paul serves some 1.2 million meals across its five charitable dining rooms annually, the partnership with TransPac Aviation Academy marked the first time its chefs became professional caterers. Organizers are hoping it won’t be the last.

“Every meal we serve here enables us to serve five others who can’t eat,” Steve Attwood, chief operations officer for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, said.

TransPac sent fees that in years past went to traditional caterers or a restaurant tab to St. Vincent de Paul instead. Its staff and students also filled five bins with nonperishables during a two-week food drive. The items went straight to St. Vincent de Paul’s food reclamation center to fill food boxes for neighbors in the community who struggle to afford their own groceries.

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Giving to St. Vincent de Paul

Million Can Crusade — Donate canned goods at local Safeway stores through Nov. 26 or support the effort monetarily online

Turkey Tuesday — Donate a frozen turkey at any Bashas’ or Food City location Nov. 25 or support the effort monetarily online or at any AJ’s Fine Foods.

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“People are responsive. They just need to be given an opportunity to help,” Attwood said.

Troy Tao, who arrived from China earlier this year and serves as president of the student union, hoped fellow students learned something of the local culture and enjoyed a brief reprieve from the rigorous 13-month program.

“Everybody works very hard and studies. We have to do something to relax,” Tao said.

Classmate Sheldon Yu, who organizes study groups, agreed. He was also thankful for the chance to enjoy fellowship as a large community with the instructors.

“We’re thankful TransPac gave us a chance to celebrate Thanksgiving,” Yu said.

A community meal and exposure to life in America was among the goals of the event, but getting involved in the community was key, said Nader Yassa, chief executive officer and chief financial officer at TransPac. He relished the opportunity to teach his students about real American struggles.

“It exposes them to a model of living life for others,” he said.

“Everybody here wins today,” Yassa said, noting the good meal and funds raised for charity, “Ultimately, the winners are the ones that St. Vincent de Paul serves and that’s what we’re most interested in.”