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Fifteen thousand turkeys had already gone out to the needy from the Western New York Food Bank this holiday season, but with Christmas a few days away, the cupboard was just about bare when Clem Eckert got a phone call this week.

It was the Buffalo Bills on the line. Ralph Wilson wanted to make a $25,000 donation. Would Eckert be interested?

Interested? Do mashed potatoes go with gravy? With his food pantries telling him they still needed hundreds more turkeys? Eckert, the Food Bank's director, was interested.

But $25,000 buys a lot of turkeys. About 2,700, to be exact. Where do you get that many birds in the busiest season of the year?

Eckert turned to Donald Will, a member of his Food Bank board but more importantly the owner of Will Poultry, a Buffalo wholesale distributor founded by his father in 1926.

Will got the call from Eckert about 4 p.m. Wednesday. By 8:30 the following morning, workers were unloading the first of the frozen birds from a big semi at the Food Bank dock on Holt Street.

Will could have gotten that many turkeys from a number of places if Eckert could wait a couple of days. He couldn't. So Will hit the phones and connected with Jaindl Turkey Farms in Orefield, Pa., in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country.

"We went to work; we did it on the fly," Will said. "They checked their inventory, got their truck, rounded up a driver."

Wilson and his wife, Mary, also donated $25,000 to Food Link in Rochester, but the money came as workers were handing out the last of their holiday food baskets.

Tom Ferraro, Food Link's director, said the Wilson money will help fund programs for older residents and youngsters through the coming year.

In Buffalo, Eckert said the need was more immediate.

When he got the call from the Bills, Eckert said, "We were down to about four cases of turkeys.

"It shocked me," he said of the large donation. "I've never seen anything like it since I've been with the Food Bank."

Eckert passed the news to the city's food pantries that more turkeys were on the way, and drivers started lining up first thing Thursday to carry away the donated birds.

"We've made one heck of a lot of people happy," Eckert said.

Everyone getting one of the free turkeys will get a card from the Buffalo Bills, wishing them a happy holiday.

Scott Berchtold, the Bills' vice president for communications, got the word out after hearing that Wilson made the donations.

"(Wilson) said, 'I'm not looking for any publicity about this,' " Berchtold said of his boss. " 'I just wanted to do something for the people in Western New York.' "

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