Residents collecting donated turkeys at last year’s Turkey Tuesday Drive.

The Kansas City rapper helps the barber expand his turkey campaign to also fight mental health

Residents collecting turkey donations during last year's Turkey Tuesday Drive.

Residents collecting turkey donations during last year’s Turkey Tuesday Drive.

Know the Joey Foundation

Fifteen years ago, Joseph “Joey Cuts” Thomas was just a barber who wanted to collect donated Thanksgiving turkeys for less fortunate families in the Kansas City metro.

He never imagined his Turkey Drive Tuesday would become a philanthropic mark of the season. At a time when many Americans are suffering from grocery store inflation, Thomas’ turkey drive is a much-needed resource for many struggling residents trying to bring a Thanksgiving meal to their family.

This year’s campaign has another dimension beyond hunger: Kansas City hip-hop artist Krizz Kaliko will join health workers to help raise awareness of mental health needs as well.

“I always had these ideas of things we could do in the community through the barbershop,” says Thomas, owner of 180V barbershop at 1805 Vine St. “I used to host a lot of parties and productions, and for me, it just wasn’t fulfilling. I wanted to do something different. I wanted to do something for Thanksgiving, just a way to say thank you and give back.

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Joseph “Joey Cuts” Thomas, center, barber at 18th and Vine, hosts an annual Thanksgiving turkey drive. Star file photo

Thomas, along with a group of friends, began using their connections to reach out to people and businesses in hopes of buying a few turkeys. The support they received that first year, harvesting 27 turkeys, showed Thomas not only the need but also the willingness of those who wanted to give.

They pick up the turkeys the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and distribute them to families the next day – for Thomas, the ultimate combination of passion and opportunity. Every year more people donate.

“Seeing the satisfaction on people’s faces and the feeling that comes with being able to bless people made me want to keep going. Being able to talk to people and the relationships you build. Being able to earn those types of relationships is definitely the best part of it all,” he says.

Thomas founded the Know Joey Foundation, a non-profit organization designed to bring more much-needed resources to the community. One of them is its Fresh Cut, Fresh Start program, which gives kids free haircuts and school supplies. The 39-year-old KC native believes his work with the organization is the culmination of his love for the community and his faith.

“The secret is always God. Before our meetings, we always pray. I wanted to make a difference in my community, and this is my chance to do God’s work. It’s a blessing to be able to feed people physically, but I’m grateful that we can feed people spiritually,” says Thomas.

He began working with church and community leaders to attract resources from all over the metro. and mental level.

“When we started there was a great focus on body and mind, but now we see the importance of focusing on the mind. We have a situation in our community with people struggling with their illness mental and conscious to try to tackle it. We bring those resources, so they know they’re not doing it alone,” says Thomas.

Mayor Quinton Lucas, third from left, showed his support during last year’s campaign with the Know Joey Foundation team. Know the Joey Foundation

Thomas wanted to do something new and meaningful for the Turkey Tuesday campaign and partnered with Blue Symphony, a Kansas City web development company, and the Kansas City Department of Health to bring the health resources essential mind.

“I’ve supported Joey over the years with some of the projects and initiatives he’s had over the years and I’ve done a great job giving back to the community,” says Ken Lumpkins, Marketing and Creative Director of Blue. Symphony. The following day, Turkey Drive Tuesday was designated as Win Wednesday by the collective to encourage people to win through sound mental health practices.

The campaign, he said, is about “focusing on people in need and saying, let’s change the narrative and want people to win by addressing mental health. I don’t think mental health has received enough attention collectively.

As a KC native, Lumpkins has seen awareness of the importance of mental health finally taken more seriously. People tend to feel depressed and anxious due to the stressors of the holiday season, which makes Thanksgiving a vital time for community awareness. As the days get shorter and colder, seasonal affective disorder can cause people’s moods to drop.

“This is a time when I think people need these services the most, the impact of missing loved ones who aren’t there for those special occasions, and the added stress of the holidays. People who can’t afford food for Thanksgiving or gifts for Christmas and the constant demand for all of that,” he says.

This year’s turkey drive will see the addition of the talented Kriz Kaliko in partnership with the initiative to help reinforce the importance of mental health.

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Recording artist Kriz Kaliko will join forces with the turkey drive event to host a Q&A on Wednesday, answering questions about his own mental health struggles. Rich Suggestions

“I’ve always talked about my life and sung about my life, and it ends up helping these people,” Kaliko, aka Samuel Watson IV, previously told The Star. “The biggest comment I get from dating is how I saved their lives because they were going to kill themselves. I’ve been on the verge of suicide many times. So I go out and talk about what’s going on help me.

Mental health has always been a major facet of his music, and he will be creating a new song that will address the subject of mental health and coping.

“We reached out to Kriz Kaliko because we are aware of his struggles and battles with mental health and how he is still able to successfully deal with these issues,” says Lumpkins. “We wanted to bring together people like him and Joey who can successfully deliver the message in a way that people will connect with.”

Kaliko will lead a Q&A session at Wednesday’s event, focusing on tools for coping with anxiety.

Since his first goal of 25 turkeys, Thomas’ organization had been raising more than 1,000 turkeys each practice. Due to COVID-19, donations have plummeted, but Thomas is confident the numbers will rebound. He is, however, aware that the economy will mean that the need has increased.

“It will be a year where we see a lot of new faces queuing for people in need. People all over America are struggling. We see prices rising. We’re seeing turkey prices range from $25 to $45, and it’s going to be a tough year, but we’re still confident the community will pull through for us,” he says.

As the event has grown and become a long-standing tradition within the urban core, Thomas hopes that other events that have the same foundation will collaborate, with new organizations and community leaders looking to organize their own turkey driving events.

“Fifteen years ago, a barber handing out free turkeys was something new. Now it is a common thing to see several hair salons holding similar events. If we can all come together and create synergy, we can do a lot of good. People need more than a turkey once a season. I would love to see more unified efforts this time of year,” he says.

In addition to Blue Symphony and Krizz Kaliko, the record will also partner with the Kansas City Royals and Urban Youth Academy.

How to participate

To give a turkey: The Turkey Tuesday Drive collection will take place from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Nov. 22 at the Kansas City MLB Urban Youth Academy, 1622 E. 17th Terrace.

To get a turkey: Those in need can pick up turkeys, canned goods and other necessities from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on November 23 at the same location. Vendors and Kriz Kaliko will be on hand. Registration is required at

“It will be a year where we see a lot of new faces queuing for people in need. People all over America are struggling. We see prices going up,” says Joseph Thomas. Last year’s collection is pictured here. Know the Joey Foundation

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JM Banks is The Star’s culture and identity reporter. He grew up in the Kansas City area and has worked in various community media such as The Pitch KC and Urban Alchemy Podcast.

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