TOWAOC – The Ute Mountain Casino and tribal government provided more than 1,500 Thanksgiving meals to tribal members during a drive-thru event Thursday.
The event replaces the traditional sit-down Thanksgiving gathering at the casino, which is not possible this year because of the pandemic.
A traditional meal was prepared by the casino’s Kuchu’s Restaurant, led by Charles Gewlas, director of food and beverage.
Casino and Kuchu staff put together individually wrapped dinners for all tribal guests to enjoy. Menu items included: slow-roasted turkey, homemade stuffing, apricot-glazed ham, sweet candied yams, mashed potatoes, steamed vegetables and pumpkin pie.
All meals are paid for by the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe for tribal members.
“We knew it was important to continue our traditional Thanksgiving dinner celebration, so we carefully planned out this alternative,” said Ute Mountain Chairman Manuel Heart. “We’re giving back to the community, and also keeping with our pandemic precautions by avoiding a large gathering.”
Cooks at Kuchu’s Restaurant began preparing the meal Monday, said Kuchu’s Banquet Coordinator Raynal Frank. Crews showed up at 3 a.m. Thursday to set up the four assembly lines that created more than 1,500 individual hot meals for the drive-up event.
“We’re keeping up, and the wait is not long,” Frank said. “Everyone is smiling under the masks. We have 80 people helping to put it all together.”
She said 900 pounds of turkey were cooked for the event.
Workers at the assembly lines filled each to-go container. Cooks hustled to keep up with pans of steaming turkey, ham, potatoes, vegetables, rolls and gravy.
Another team took orders, and runners brought out the hot meals that were carefully loaded into the vehicles. About 340 meals were delivered to tribal employees.
“It’s nice, a good meal like this keeps up our spirits. We are working together as a tribe, and also staying safe. We’re thankful for our community and our families,” said Craig Root, who drove through with his son Bronson.
Next week, turkey and side dishes will be handed out to the White Mesa reservation community to take home and prepare, Heart said.