JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Julington Creek man who endured an infamous near-death experience brought the community together to give back this holiday season.
Casey Jones, a survivor of the "Miracle on the Hudson" emergency plane landing, started a turkey drive in 2010 that's grown throughout the years.
“I literally think of it every day and have a tremendous appreciation for life,” Jones said of the harrowing day in 2009 when Capt. Chesley Sullenberger safely landed U.S. Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River after the plane struck a flock of geese.
"We had about 90 seconds from the time Chesley Sullenburger told us to brace for impact until we hit,” Jones recalled. "I took my phone out of my pocket to call Judy. She was on another plane at the same time. I couldn't get the password in."
Jones said after that experience, he had a new outlook on life. Around this time in 2010, he heard a story on the radio about the Salvation Army.
"They were short 300 turkeys and didn't know how they were going to fill that need for the year,” Jones said. “I thought 'I gotta do something.'"
So he went home and sent an email to five friends.
"I set up a GoFundMe account, and I was getting donations from people I didn't know,” he said.
The turkey drive started small, but Jones continued to spread the word and gather support. In its seventh year, the "Miracle on the Hudson" Turkey Drive went above and beyond.
Box by box, bird by bird, hundreds of turkeys were donated to the Salvation Army on Friday and delivered to the charity's warehouse downtown.
"It takes a lot of work, but I'll tell ya, when I leave here today, I'm going to take a deep breath and say, 'We did it,'" Jones said.
More than 500 local families will be able to have a Thanksgiving meal through the drive's donations.
“I know I have a meal ready, but some people don't have that luxury,” said Lt. Dominic Blanford, a Corps officer with the Salvation Army Church. “I've seen people, literally tears coming down their cheeks, they're just so amazed at what the Salvation Army can do."
Jones hopes to get more turkeys next year and wants to expand his drive to other cities in need. Jones said it's about community, not just giving money or food.
“Even if you can't give, at least keep the folks who are needy and struggling this time of year, at least keep them in your thoughts and prayers,” Jones said. “I'm thankful for those people just as much as those who make a donation."
Hundreds of families will be lined up Tuesday outside the Salvation Army to pick up their turkey along with all the fixings. The registration for the free turkey giveaway is over, but if you need assistance or know a family that does, contact the Holiday Assistance Program at 904-301-4791 or go to http://www.salvationarmyflorida.org/jacksonville/our-programs/holiday-assistance.
For other assistance from the Salvation Army:
- Jacksonville Area Command -- 904-301-4875
- Clay County Corps -- 904-276-6677
- St. Augustine Worship Center -- 904-824-6956
- Nassau County Hope House -- 904-321-0435