MASS Spotlight: Debbie Miles, Burrows Center Program Coordinator

Nov 25, 2020

Burrows Center Program Coordinator Debbie Miles knows a thing or two about preparing a Thanksgiving feast. For the last 11 years, she’s been a driving force behind The Salvation Army’s annual TurkeyFest, which delivers approximately 1,000 home-cooked dinners to older adults in Omaha on Thanksgiving morning.

“We typically roast and prepare about 535 pounds of turkey,” said Miles — and all that is in addition to thousands of pounds of mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans and cranberry sauce, gallons of gravy and thousands of dinner rolls and cookies. Cooking starts Monday of Thanksgiving week in the kitchen at The Salvation Army’s Kroc Center and is directed by Kevin Newlin, catering chef at Creighton University, who has managed TurkeyFest’s food production for the past nine years.   

This year marks the 29th annual TurkeyFest, a tradition that is continuing despite challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the Kroc Center’s kitchen, masked volunteers will work at separate tables placed six feet apart as they prepare and package the meals.  Another 145 volunteers will steer their cars through the Kroc Center parking lot to pick up the meals drive-thru style — and finally drop off the meals to their recipients via contactless doorstep delivery.

Feeding 1,000 people — especially during a pandemic — is no small task, but Miles, who transitioned from the Kroc Center’s food service and events department to the Burrows Center for Help and Hope this past summer, is confident that TurkeyFest will go off without a hitch. “We’ve got the logistics worked out, and I expect it to go smoothly,” she said.  

While the turkeys roast and the potatoes simmer, Miles will undoubtedly be thinking about the next holiday challenge that’s just around the corner. She and her Material Assistance and Seasonal Services (MASS) colleagues at the Burrows Center are already hard at work planning The Salvation Army’s Toyland, which — because of the pandemic — will also look quite a bit different in 2020. Ordinarily, families “shop” Toyland for free gifts for their children, but this year Toyland will be conducted as a drive-thru distribution, similar to The Salvation Army-KETV backpack distribution this past summer.

From backpacks to turkeys to toys, Debbie Miles has a full plate, but she wouldn’t have it any other way — even when it means showing up to scoop mashed potatoes before dawn on Thanksgiving morning. “I love working with people who really want to and like to help,” she said.


The Salvation Army’s MASS program provides assistance when times are tough by offering food, clothing, household items, help paying for prescription medications, utility assistance and seasonal services. Our goal is to help those who are struggling stay afloat until financial stability can be achieved. For more information about MASS, visit our Burrows Center for Help and Hope website.

Are you wondering, “What can I do?” to help people in need during this especially challenging Christmas season? One answer might be to help Debbie and her MASS colleagues #RescueChristmas this year for thousands of people in the metro. Consider making a donation to a virtual red kettle, sign up for the Adopt-a-Family program to sponsor a family in need this Christmas or check out our many volunteer opportunities.

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