Turkey Challenge nets 400 birds

From left, Christopher High School Principal John Perales,

Christopher High Principal John Perales’ voice resonates with
pride as he extols staff and students for the truckload of turkeys
they collected in less than a week’s time.
Christopher High Principal John Perales’ voice resonates with pride as he extols staff and students for the truckload of turkeys they collected in less than a week’s time.

A complimentary meal from his counterpart and rival – Gilroy High Principal Marco Sanchez – is just a perk.

“We totally could have competed better if we had more time,” rebuts Sanchez, good-humoredly.

Perales asked Sanchez to participate in his brainchild, a Turkey Challenge commencing Oct. 29, pitting their two schools against each other in a battle of the birds to see who could amass 100 frozen gobblers first. The donated goods go directly to the St. Joseph’s Family Center to assist low-income families with holiday meals.

“I learned about the challenge Friday the 29th, which didn’t give me much time to respond and mobilize something like that in such a short order,” said Sanchez, defending his school’s honor. “But once the word got out, the response was fairly quick.”

Friendly competition aside, Sanchez’s sights are focused on the bigger picture.

“I’m just thankful to John Perales for coming up with the competition. The real winners are the families that will benefit from the school’s generosity and their response. We’re glad to be a part of it,” he said.

Perales says the idea was mostly playful at first.

“I thought, ‘I’m gonna challenge them to the Great Turkey Challenge of Gilroy,'” he said.

He went home that weekend, thinking 100 turkeys might be pushing the envelope.

By Tuesday, Christopher High was already at that number and counting. Gilroy High was nipping at Christopher’s heels, reaching their goal not long after.

“Our parents, students and staff are unbelievable,” says Perales, who funneled an additional seven turkeys toward the drive thanks to an amiable Giants game bet with a friend.

The Turkey Challenge wager was sweetened by a deal decreeing the losing principal takes the winner out to eat.

“We won. He owes me dinner,” Perales said.

“I owe him lunch, anyhow,” Sanchez said.

The situation is a win-win for St. Joseph’s, whose walk-in freezer is the visual manifestation of both schools’ generosity.

“It’s really enchanting that it’s coming from the youth in our community, and spearheaded by great leaders,” said St. Joseph’s Executive Director David Cox, who reiterates no suggestions were made on his end to either Perales or Sanchez. “It just came from them, and it blossomed. It’s just an amazing gift.”

Cox says the families and individuals St. Joseph’s works with have been hard hit by the slow economic recovery and high unemployment rate in town.

“We’re seeing a lot of new families coming up to us for services for the first time,” he said, adding the scenario isn’t quite as dramatic as last year, but the increase in need is still inarguably evident.

“There’s no real great hope or anticipation that things are going to turn around quickly,” he says. “We’re just trying to batten the hatches and do the best we can.”

Stakes were upped by the Gilroy Foundation, which got involved with a promise to match each school’s total up to 100 turkeys each. Foundation Executive Director Donna Pray says the board generously gives her some discretionary grant money, so when she heard St. Joseph’s was in need of 700 birds for the holiday season – and that Christopher and Gilroy High were holding a competition – she put two and two together and jumped on the turkey train.

“We want to make sure everyone has a nice Thanksgiving in Gilroy,” Pray said. “They did great.”

As of now, the count is around 440. Cox says St. Joseph’s sights are set on 700 turkeys for Thanksgiving, plus an additional 700 for Christmas.

Judging by enthusiasm and participation, both principals are game for making the event a concrete tradition, possibly with developed rules and turkey criteria in the future.

“It cold be an annual thing, I’m sure, with adequate planning,” Sanchez said.

“Maybe we can get a turkey costume, and the principal visits the winning campus in a turkey costume during lunch time,” says Perales. “We can think of something fun, like chasing a live turkey or something.”

Perales playfully insinuates the spirit of healthy competition, mentioning the two schools go head to head Friday in football.

“We have the utmost respect for the Cougars,” Sanchez replies.

But on donning a turkey costume in the future, should Christopher win again next year?

“That’s negotiable.”

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