Brayden Stallons, 14, loads turkeys Sunday into his family’s freezer. For his Eagle Scout project, he has managed the collection of more than 41 birds for distribution by The Food Bank for Central & Northeast Missouri and plans to purchase 80 more this week. Matt Rahner/Tribune
News, The Columbia Daily Tribune

Teen with autism to donate hundreds of turkeys

Brayden Stallons, 14, loads turkeys Sunday into his family’s freezer. For his Eagle Scout project, he has managed the collection of more than 41 birds for distribution by The Food Bank for Central & Northeast Missouri and plans to purchase 80 more this week. Matt Rahner/Tribune

Brayden Stallons, 14, loads turkeys Sunday into his family’s freezer. For his Eagle Scout project, he has managed the collection of more than 41 birds for distribution by The Food Bank for Central & Northeast Missouri and plans to purchase 80 more this week. Matt Rahner/Tribune

Brayden Stallons set out on an ambitious Eagle Scout project to supply clients of The Food Bank for Central & Northeast Missouri with hearty parts of a holiday meal. His mission: Gather frozen turkeys or macaroni and cheese.

If he hit a specified number, Brayden, a freshman at Rock Bridge High School, would earn the Boy Scouts’ highest rank.

Six weeks later, he has more than 100 birds pledged to the food bank with another $900 worth of pledges on the way. He dubbed the project “Gobble Up Hunger.”

“I told him, ‘Don’t you dare choose frozen turkeys,’ ” said his mother, Pam Salmon. There were plenty of other good options for an Eagle project, she said.

Gobble gobble.

For Brayden, who has autism, forging a food drive that requires such a large social aspect was the challenge he was looking for.

Brayden was nonverbal until he was 4, Salmons said.

“It’s a part of me, and I shouldn’t be uncomfortable to talk about it,” Brayden said. “I’m an average teen like most of the other kids. I face a challenge, and I conquer it as best I can.”

The hardest part of the project was not securing donations of the birds themselves but directing younger Scouts to solicit contributions, he said.

“You’re not selling the turkeys,” Brayden said. “You’re selling yourself.”

Most other Eagle Scout projects, said Troop Master Clayton Fish, are more outdoorsy. It’s the Boy Scouts, after all. Another Scout built a playground for a church that was damaged by a hailstorm.

Brayden’s task was unconventional but just as challenging, Fish said. “Most of the Eagle projects have to do with service,” he said. “Fundraisers are difficult because you set a goal, and if you can’t make that goal,” it’s difficult to prove you earned the rank.

“The project he’s doing is extremely difficult,” said Salmon. “He can go out and build a flower bed, but this challenged him more than anything else.”

Fish said he has seen Brayden grow socially and pick up leadership skills, something he has struggled with for a long time as a result of his disability.

“You talk to him, and he’s so painfully shy,” Fish said. “It’s hard for him to talk to crowds, and part of an Eagle project is you’re not supposed to do the work; you’re supposed to manage the work like a CEO.

“Now he’s come out of his shell a little more. His disability shows sometimes, and sometimes it doesn’t. The troop dynamic that we have is that everybody is accepted for who they are. You know, some people play football, one doesn’t eat meat at all. It’s interesting to watch the boys get along and take care of one another.”

Brayden has surpassed his mark — originally 30 birds, then bumped to 40 — by a crazy margin, Salmon said.

Her original plan when all the donations could no longer fit in the freezer: “Well, I hope it gets cold,” she said.

“That’s your plan?” Brayden replied.

Salmon had to ask for help from the food bank to store the turkeys before Brayden could make the final donation.

Once the birds started piling up, she called around to neighbors and other members of the troop to ask who could store part of the frozen flock.

The turkeys will go toward providing families with a holiday meal and a valuable source of protein, Brayden said, something the food bank struggles to provide every year.

“The holiday meal, sometimes all people get is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” he said. “It shouldn’t be like that. A holiday should be festive.”

http://www.columbiatribune.com/news/education/teen-with-autism-to-donate-hundreds-of-turkeys/article_b3d5894d-5112-5bbc-9f96-3627c6034644.html

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