Matt’s passion: Fighting cancer with turkeys
Matt Freedman, Ologie’s chief operating officer, is also the “chief frying officer” at a nonprofit he founded called Fry Out Cancer. In the last 10 years, the organization has raised nearly $200,000 for cancer research by cooking Thanksgiving turkeys. With bold goals for 2023, Matt took some time to share more about this passion of his.
Tell us more about Fry Out Cancer. When and how did you get started, and what’s it all about?
I think the origin story is kind of funny. In 2005, we were living in Chicago, and we visited my in-laws for Thanksgiving in Cincinnati. When we arrived, my father-in-law showed off the shiny new turkey fryer that he’d purchased. We were all shocked, and my mother-in-law was afraid that he was going to burn down the house. The first fried turkey turned out great, but my mother-in-law wouldn’t let my father-in-law keep the fryer. So I took the turkey fryer to Chicago, and then moved it to Columbus in 2006. I subsequently started preparing (and hopefully perfecting) fried turkeys for various meals and Friendsgivings. People raved about it, so I wanted to put one of my few skills to good use.
In 2014, I told friends that I was going to fry turkeys in my backyard on Thanksgiving, and if they wanted one, then they could donate $100 to Nationwide Children’s Hospital. All of the turkeys were reserved within a few hours.
In 2015, we pivoted from Nationwide Children’s to The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital, and [Ologie founder] Bev provided a little bit of seed money to grow the fundraiser. We expanded to 30 turkeys — still in my driveway and backyard. Lots of Ologists volunteered, and the event continued to grow from there. We’ve since taken on culinary partners, sponsors, and hundreds of volunteers. Now, 2023 will be our 10th year, and we’ve raised more than $185,000 for cancer research at The James.
Where did the idea for “Fry Out Cancer” come from?
We initially started the idea to raise money for Nationwide Children’s because one of my kids was treated in the Hematology/Oncology Department there. The James Cancer Hospital really embraced the idea, and they’ve been a great partner since 2015. The name seems to resonate well with donors and the public. It seems like every week someone will ask me: “What’s happening with ‘Fry Out’ next year?”
How long does the frying take? Does the event happen in one day, or one weekend?
The frying itself only takes about three and a half minutes per pound. The turkeys are each 12 to 14 pounds, so they usually fry in about 45 minutes. This year, we’ll fry about 110 turkeys on Thanksgiving Day at Temple Beth Shalom in New Albany. But the event lasts the whole week, as we’ll prep over 600 turkeys at Columbus State on the Monday before. Five hundred of those turkeys are roasted at Columbus State on Tuesday, and then delivered on the day before Thanksgiving to organizations that feed families in need. Then there’s a massive cleanup on the day after Thanksgiving. It takes a village of volunteers and partners to make all of this happen.
There are lots of partners listed on your website that make this fundraiser possible. What has been your favorite partnership experience so far?
I wouldn’t even know where to begin to pick a favorite. From a grassroots perspective, it was great to have the support of so many Ologists to help get this off the ground. There were so many people who went above and beyond to help out. Some have been involved every year. More recently, it’s been amazing to have Columbus State as a culinary partner. We wouldn’t be able to do any of this without their amazing facility and culinary expertise.
Almost all of the marketing has been word of mouth, and that has led to some big sponsorships. Huntington Bank is a first-time sponsor this year, and they wrote a check for $5,000. Wendy’s writes a check for $1,000. Blue Rhino donates all the propane. Sysco donates $1,000 worth of peanut oil for the frying.
At the end of the day, it’s amazing that we’re helping so many people. This year, we’ll be frying about 8,000 pounds of turkey. If you estimate that each person eats a pound of turkey, then that’s a lot of mouths that we’re feeding, while also raising a lot of money for cancer research.
What has been the most memorable or meaningful part of Fry Out Cancer?
Some of the most memorable moments were the instances where we were just figuring out how to scale up the event and prepare dozens (then hundreds) of turkeys. We had no idea what we were doing, but it’s always been fun and such a unique experience.
In the last few years, it’s been amazing to see and hear people make Fry Out Cancer one of their Thanksgiving traditions. Many people volunteer for the same shifts every year. Others pick up turkeys and drive them to the same shelters every year. It’s become a great community, and I had no inkling that would happen. It’s amazing.
What will Fry Out Cancer look like this year? What is your hope for the organization’s future?
This year, we’ll be cooking more than 600 turkeys, with a goal of raising $50,000. About 500 of the turkeys will be donated to a dozen different organizations in Central Ohio that feed families in need. All of this takes more than 225 volunteers over the course of the week of Thanksgiving. It’s nuts.
We try to keep the value proposition simple: Make a donation to The James, and you can reserve a fried turkey for your Thanksgiving meal. Or, you can sponsor a turkey for a family in need. We’ve also recently expanded to pies (Pie Out Cancer) and gravy.
I could never have imagined that Fry Out Cancer would grow to its current size. It’s my best crazy idea. I don’t know how much more it can grow in Columbus, but I’d love to see it start in other cities. I wrote an operations manual and have tons of insight on how to get it off the ground. I just need to find someone as crazy as I am to figure out how to move it forward.
To learn more about Matt’s efforts or to support the cause, visit FryOutCancer.org.