ELKHART — Thanksgiving preparations started a little earlier for one group of men Thursday morning.
The group that has come to be known as the “Turkey Thugs” was to begin their day at Volcano Pizza on Osolo Road at 5:30 this morning, preparing turkeys for the Salvation Army’s Thanksgiving meal.
The patriarchs of the Thugs, Bob Battjes, Mark Stoops and Todd Nusbaum, have been helping out the Elkhart Army for about two decades. Over time, the act of charity has become a family tradition, incorporating each of the men’s sons.
When the Thugs first began helping the Salvation Army, they prepared 12 turkeys and provided all the birds for the Army’s annual meal. The turkey operation has since expanded to 20 turkeys and has seen the Army add some of its own. They also used to provide 40 to 60 pounds of stuffing each year, but now they focus only on the turkeys.
The men used to start their preparations even earlier than 5:30, but moving their operation to Volcano Pizza has allowed them to start later. The Thugs have also passed on much of the turkey cooking to their six sons.
Ben and Ed Battjes, Ross and Derek Nusbaum and Kyle and Jay Stoops now handle much of the cooking. The sons first became involved to help satisfy community service needs for school or different organizations they were involved in. But they have now come to look forward to the annual turkey cooking.
“It’s not, you know, ‘do you guys want to do it?’” Todd Nusbaum said about not needing to prod his sons into helping. “They would call from college when they were in college and they were like ‘Are you doing turkeys this year?’”
After years of practice, the group has turkey preparation down to a science. They now set up an assembly line of cleaning and preparing the turkeys for cooking.
The morning began with the unceremonious removing of gizzards and hearts. “Sticking your hand into a freezing turkey at 5:30 in the a.m. is always fun,” Ben Battjes laughed.
Once the birds are in the oven, Todd Nusbaum makes a breakfast for the group that has become just another in a succession of traditions for the group.
It now takes the turkeys about 4 hours until they are ready, and then the Salvation Army comes with a temperature-controlled truck to take the turkeys to Matterhorn Conference Center, where the meal is served.
The entire experience is the Thugs’ way of recognizing their appreciation for the Elkhart community.
“It’s just kind of fun,’ Bob Battjes said. “We’ve been doing it for a long time and Elkhart’s been good to all of us and this is just a way to pay it back.”
“It’s just something that’s really special just to be a part of something that helps out a community that we’ve been a part of,” Ben Battjes said.
Todd Nusbaum also looks forward to the annual event as a special time to spend with family. “The thing that’s neat now, for me, is I have a son that lives out of town so he comes back in,” Nusbaum said. “They (the sons) look forward to this.”