“Turkey Blitz,” a Thanksgiving fundraiser in collaboration with
the Missionaries of Charity, completed its 20th year at Bishop O’Connell High
School in Arlington. In 1997, the school began its involvement with the religious
order’s Washington home, Gift of Peace, when visual arts teacher Joe Crivella
proposed the idea to then-Principal Alward Burch.
“It’s an unusual story,” said Crivella, who traces the history to
around 1993, when a Missionary of Charity was hit by a truck in Washington.
The nun was taken to the hospital, where Crivella’s wife, Therese
Crivella, and her sister, Marjorie Moreau, were both working as nurses. They recognized
the white and blue habit and contacted the Missionaries of Charity. When the
sisters arrived, they were told that she wouldn’t make it through the night.
With permission from the hospital staff, the sisters prayed around her. Thirty
days later, the injured sister walked out of the hospital on crutches, and
received post-operative care from Therese Crivella.
Therese’s medical service spread to the community and involved,
Joe, who volunteered with the Missionaries in their outreach to the homeless,
sick and destitute of Washington. He met Mother Teresa and grew in admiration
of the sisters. The experience solidified his Catholic faith.
He also noticed that the sisters had a “meager Thanksgiving
“It’s like everyone knows we go all out (for Thanksgiving),” said
Crivella. “But the idea of giving thanks isn’t as perpetuated as it once was.”
In 1997, three days before the holiday, Crivella approached Burch
about creating a fundraiser to provide food for the sisters’ Thanksgiving meal.
Burch liked the idea and because of its short notice they dubbed it “Turkey
Two decades later the school spends a week raising money. During
that week, Crivella receives a phone call from the sisters with a grocery list
and the number of families attending. After the money is collected, he
purchases the items and delivers them to the sisters with the help of students.
In the beginning, 15 to 20 families ate Thanksgiving dinner with
the sisters. Last year there were 220 families.
“Sometimes we have to raise $7,000 (and) other times $1,000,”
said Crivella. Each year the goal is met, and in amazement he says, “God always
After the meal, the sisters give the families goody bags filled
with olive oil, coffee, flour and other staples to sustain them for the weeks
The school has incorporated the “Turkey Blitz” into its calendar
of charitable events alongside the Chunky Soup Drive and Super Dance.
Art students lend their talents by creating fliers that pay
homage to Crivella — one with his face photoshopped on a turkey’s head.
Crivella visits religion classes and shares his stories of
working with the sisters and his personal meeting with the now St. Teresa of
Kolkata. That encounter, he said, changed his life at a time when he had grown
resentful toward God after enduring much grief.
Within three years, he had lost three siblings and put his mother
in hospice care. The morning after his brother had died, the third sibling to pass,
the Missionaries of Charity called to ask him to drive six sisters to the
“I didn’t want to go,” he said, but he went anyway.
One of the sisters in the group was Mother Teresa, and because of
her fame they took an unusual route. Stopping at a traffic light, he saw St.
Martin of Tours Church in Washington, the church where his brother had received
his sacraments. At the same time, Mother Teresa picked up a letter from the car
floor that Crivella had written to his brother. She asked who it was for, and
after Crivella explained his recent passing she asked that they pray for him.
“It had to be providence, not coincidence,” he said, claiming
that the experience reaffirmed his Catholic faith.
“It’s a marvelous thing for O’Connell to start this (project)
while she was alive,” said Crivella, adding to the school’s connection to the
saint when she visited in 1982.
Crivella hopes to pass the torch to the student-run Young Men’s
Executive Club, saying he’s getting too old to lead it.
As long as the Missionaries of Charity host families for
Thanksgiving, says Crivella, he hopes O’Connell will be thankful to be a part