PINEVILLE, Ky. (BP) — At Kentucky’s Clear Creek Baptist Bible College, every Christmas season includes “turkey day.”
On the designated day in December, all degree-seeking students taking at least six hours of classes at the eastern Kentucky college receive a frozen turkey, fixings for a holiday meal and a cash gift of at least $100 to help with Christmas expenses. A separate “shopping spree” gift helps student families buy presents for their children.
For a college focused on training ministry students with an average age of 30 — many of whom have left behind their sources of income to pursue God’s call — the holiday gifts are a welcome treat.
Adam Dooley, a 1999 Clear Creek graduate and pastor of Dallas-area Sunnyvale First Baptist Church, told Baptist Press the turkey was always a “highlight” of his Christmas season.
Many “students who lived on campus and had wives and children … would not have had a Christmas apart from those turkeys,” Dooley said. “It was more than a luxury for them.”
Dooley noted that Clear Creek’s mission at its founding in 1926 “was to provide an education for mountain preachers in eastern Kentucky, most of whom did not have resources to go to college.”
The student body includes a more diverse array of students today, Dooley said. Still, “there is a large percentage of the student population there that … would not be able to afford” a traditional Christmas celebration for their families.
Clear Creek President Donnie Fox told BP the “typical” married student on campus has “left a job that they’ve had to support their family. Many of them had to sell their homes … They’ve sacrificed to come, and there are some financial struggles.”
On turkey day, Fox and his executive staff personally place turkeys in students’ cars and provide faculty and staff with turkeys as well.
The turkey ministry began in the late 1960s when Clear Creek alumnus Don Burnett, then a pastor in Bowling Green, Ky., remembered his own financial struggles as a student and began taking frozen holiday turkeys to campus. Fellow Bowling Green pastor Bill Whittaker, who became Clear Creek president in 1988, helped Burnett with the ministry and assumed leadership following Burnett’s death in 1970.
Even when Whittaker served as a missionary in the Philippines from 1983-86, he made certain annually that a friend in Kentucky could deliver turkeys to Clear Creek. Students came to know Whittaker as “the turkey man.”
“When I was elected president of the Kentucky Baptist Convention” in 1980, Whittaker told BP, “I probably owed that vote to the turkeys because Clear Creek graduates were at the convention meeting and I only got it by 17 votes.”
Whittaker, who served on the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, also remembers weightier benefits of the turkey giveaway.
“While I was [Clear Creek] president, I knew that some [students] were just barely getting by,” Whittaker said, “and they were grateful for” the turkeys.
A program from Whittaker’s presidential tenure that allowed students to pick toys for their children from a collection in the Clear Creek gym has evolved into the “shopping spree” gift students receive today.
Whittaker’s frozen turkey deliveries have given way to ordering turkeys purchased with donated funds.
Though Whittaker no longer travels to campus for turkey day, Fox said he continues to support the ministry financially. Fox also noted that students continue to express gratitude.
“Multiple times, the students — especially the ones with families — come and thank us tremendously, beyond words,” Fox said.
Clear Creek is a ministry partner of the Kentucky Baptist Convention that receives more than 16 percent of its annual budget from Cooperative Program funds.