What does 27 turkeys, 18 gallons of green beans and 500 servings of dressing have in common?
They can all be found on the menu for this year’s Community Thanksgiving Dinner provided by Grace’s Soup Kitchen of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church.
This is the 14th year the dinner will be served to the public, and volunteer Jerry Hart again finds himself behind the burners. Another year gone, another dinner to cook.
Hart and his wife Yvonne, have been regular volunteers at the soup kitchen and community dinner since 2000. He’s been heading and coordinating the dinner since 2005.
The years fluctuate as to visitors and food production. The first year, they fed 50 to 100 community members and have had as many as 530 dinners served.
Last year, the dinner saw around 380 empty bellies ready to feast upon traditional Thanksgiving fare. The actual space for the dinner can only hold about 150 people but the amount of dinners that leave the soup kitchen are double that number.
“We have waiters and waitresses for the people who come in because this is a sit-down affair,” Hart said. “But we also deliver. Anyone who wants a delivery can call before that Thursday and we will take them a meal. And after 12:30, we offer to-go dinners.”
This year, Hart and other volunteers will be prepared for a large turnout but are always aware of factors such as weather conditions and other events going on in town.
“We don’t turn anyone away,” Hart said. “We just ask that they come hungry and be civil.”
They start the preparation in mid-October. Buying the food, putting out advertising, finding volunteers to help set up and participate are the beginning processes. They begin cooking things like the onions and celery for the dressing, a week before the dinner and a few turkeys get cooked as well. Sometimes they will cook, debone and freeze the turkey.
“Twenty-seven turkeys don’t cook overnight,” Hart said with a chuckle.
All the cooking is done by Hart and other volunteers in the kitchen at St. Barnabas. During the year, the soup kitchen has about 25 regular volunteers that help dole out hot meals every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
For the Thanksgiving dinner, around 50 to 60 volunteers will partake in the preparation and serving. They take donations but do not take pre-cooked dishes. Frozen turkeys, canned green beans and pies are a few things they do accept.
The dinner is served from 11:30 a.m to 1 p.m. and it is open and free to the public but a gift of $20 will help feed a family of three or four. To donate food or your services, please call 565-7865.