Categories: Giveaways

Operation Give Birds Expands Cedar Rapids Turkey Giveaways, Adds Dubuque to City Distribution Center

Operation Give Birds volunteers distribute food in their 2021 campaign, which gave away 1,000 meals to families in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and Waterloo. (Angie Cook)

Five years after it started, a Thanksgiving prank grows to 1,200 turkey meals for those in need

CEDAR RAPIDS — Five years after a Thanksgiving prank, a group of friends has given “giving the bird” a whole new meaning.

What started as a prank in Austin Hermsen in 2017, when a friend made a Craigslist post advertising free turkeys, has turned into a nonprofit organization. This year it is expanding even further.

Operation Give Birds gave away 80 turkeys in its first year. This year, the operation has grown to 1,200 food giveaways, including 800 for Cedar Rapids, and is expanding to another city.

With consistent and continued growth each year, it may be one of the longest running non-profit gags in eastern Iowa.

if you go

What: Iowa Giving Crew’s sixth annual Operation Give Birds

Cedar Rapids: 850 32nd Ave. SW (Now Closed)

Iowa City: 470 Ruppert Rd.

Waterloo: 125 Courier St.

Dubuque: 2300 Kerper Blvd.

When: Sunday, November 20 from noon to 2 p.m

To receive a meal: Register online through the Operation Giving Birds Facebook page. Meals are still available in Iowa City, Waterloo and Dubuque

To give: Donations to the Iowa Giving Crew’s efforts can be made through their website at, through PayPal at, or through Venmo to the Iowa-Givingcrew manager. A $35 donation feeds a family of four.

Since becoming a formal 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization in 2019, the Iowa Giving Crew expanded its Thanksgiving giving to food insecure families in Iowa City in 2020 and Waterloo in 2021. This year, Operation Give Birds will be distributing turkeys in Dubuque, too.

“The ability to build scale has really materialized because we are a 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization, which opens up funding and donation avenues,” said Nick Dusil, president of the Iowa Giving Crew, the organization that runs Operation Give. Birds.

In 2017, the operation started in a garage with a few friends raising money to help families in Cedar Rapids. Now with Hy-Vee as a vendor and a partnership through Van Meter Inc. in Cedar Rapids, the addition of Dubuque was “a plug and play situation,” Dusil said.

There, the meals are packaged and mounted on pallets for distribution to the operation’s four locations, where the need has grown substantially since 2017.

“The last two years we have been expanding. We reached a saturation point of 600 meals for the need in Cedar Rapids,” said the president, who has seen a significant jump in demand over the past year attributed in part to inflation and rising costs “It’s getting harder and harder for people to get food.”

This year, 800 people have signed up to eat in Cedar Rapids and there are no more spots available. The other 400 meals will be distributed by the all-volunteer organization at its locations in Dubuque, Iowa City and Waterloo, where meals are still available. People in need can register online using a link on the Operation Give Birds Facebook page.

Donations to the Iowa Giving Crew’s efforts can be made through their website at, through PayPal at, or through Venmo to the Iowa-Givingcrew manager. A $35 donation feeds a family of four.

Since forming as a nonprofit and getting more funding after law, Iowa Giving Crew has launched Operation Education, which helps students get lunch in areas where traditional meal funding isn’t enough. They’ve also launched Operation Iowa Nice, which works with nonprofits to help clients facing barriers to success, such as car repairs and child care.

“We can’t do this without our donors and volunteers,” Dusil said. “I want to thank them for their contributions and trust. We will do well with your charitable contributions.”

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