Hams for the Holidays: Hundreds pack fairgrounds for free ham

Hy-Vee employees place hams on tables Tuesday, Dec. 12, at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds, 2815 W. Locust St., Davenport, for the grocery chain’s “Hams for the Holidays” event. CREDIT DAVE THOMPSON

Many people who are having trouble putting food on the table this holiday season received an early Christmas gift on Tuesday, Dec. 12, as free hams were handed out in Davenport.

Hy-Vee officials and area first responders handed out 570 free hams at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds, in Davenport, as part of Hy-Vee’s collaborative effort with Hormel Foods called “Hams for the Holidays.” (A similar giveaway was held at the fairgrounds in April 2022.) 

Under this partnership, Hy-Vee and Hormel will give away 5,000 free hams to people and 10 food banks across the eight-state region this holiday season.

On Tuesday, those free hams were a big hit with many in the Quad Cities. Hundreds of people in vehicles lined up in a fairgrounds parking lot and along Locust Street hours before the giveaway began. An hour before the scheduled 4 p.m. start of the event, the parking lot was already filled and dozens of vehicles were lining up on Locust Street to the west side of the fairgrounds.

The first vehicle in that long line was driven by Nellie Potts of Walcott, Iowa, who wanted a free ham as the centerpiece dish for a holiday dinner for four at her home.

“I was told I had to get here early to get a ham. … So, I got here at 7 ‘o’clock this morning, but I was told I had to come back. So, I came back at noon and have been waiting for hours,” Ms. Potts said sitting in her Ford SUV, shortly before the ham giveaway Tuesday afternoon.

Hy-Vee officials on hand at the event said they are happy to help make the holidays a better time for many people.

“It’s just so impressive to see all these people here. You can really tell there is a need for this,” said Tim Cernin, a district store director for Hy-Vee. “I hope we can brighten everybody’s holidays with this event.”

Mr. Cernin and dozens of other Hy-Vee employees – plus several officers from the Davenport Police Department and volunteers with local food pantries – were busy at work getting those hams ready for the crowd. At about 2:30 p.m., about 15 volunteers started placing hundreds of hams on a series of tables to make it an easier, more efficient process of handing them out to people in the vehicles.

The volunteers were also told to follow this main rule: Each vehicle gets one ham. (Sometimes, people in vehicles ask for two or three hams for other family members who could not attend the giveaway, Hy-Vee representatives said.)

All of the hams on the tables were Hormel Cure 81 Classic Smoked Hams. The retail price of each ham is at least $25, according to several grocery websites.

“Food insecurity is a very real concern that affects many of our neighbors and customers,” Jeremy Gosch, Hy-Vee’s CEO, said in a news release. “With the support of our partner, Hormel Foods, we can give back and help make this holiday season a little brighter for those who may be struggling.”

In addition to the Davenport event, Hy-Vee and Hormel have or will host ham giveaways this month in the Iowa cities of Waterloo, Sioux City and Ottumwa; plus Columbia, Missouri; North Mankato, Minnesota; Topeka, Kansas; and Janesville, Wisconsin.

Over the past six years, Hy-Vee and Hormel have partnered to provide more than 26,000 Hormel Cure 81 hams to those in need. Throughout the years, more than $16 million in hams have been donated, feeding tens of thousands of families across the country.

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