If you’ve ever enjoyed the turkey feast put on each year through Montrose Community Dinners, you’re not alone. The annual Thanksgiving tradition — back for its 25th year from noon to 3 p.m. today — sees about 2,000 people fed, between Friendship Hall, which transforms into a dining hall for the whole community at 1101 N. Second St., and home deliveries. But, have you ever wondered how it all comes to be? John Lindh, chef and vice president of Montrose Community Dinners’ board, walked folks through the basics of this massive, logistical undertaking that volunteers make happen every year.
Visit Friendship Hall on the Monday before Thanksgiving, and you’ll see boxes of tableware, cans of green beans, broth, and serving pans — all necessary to serve an entire community. Lindh said he ordered the turkeys three weeks prior to prep week, which were picked up Nov. 23; the rest of the food was ordered about a week and a half before the big day.
Main event: turkey time
The bird is the main event for the Thanksgiving meal. Lindh and his volunteers can roast up to 24 turkeys at a time, but before they go in the oven, they are defrosted in a water bath (still in their packaging). After, the whole birds go into pans to be roasted, then are removed and cooled under fans. Volunteers debone and carve the turkeys, placing the meat into pans, which are sealed and stored in safe refrigeration until Thanksgiving morning, when they are reheated. Dressing, cranberry sauce, potatoes are also prepared that morning.
How much food?
Potatoes: About 530 pounds
Pies/desserts: As many as are donated
Leftovers: Food left over from the organizers’ largesse is donated to organizations that serve the homeless and the needy.
This year, dinner organizers are hoping pig farmers will be able to use the food waste for their stock.
Cheers for the volunteers
The meal takes up to 400 volunteers to pull off, even though they do not all work at the same time.
At the meal, volunteers serve up the food in the buffet lines; manage the drinks or dessert tables; help with table service; assist in the kids’ activities room, and more.
Earlier in the day, multiple people show up to package and drive meals to those who signed up for deliveries, and even to spend a little time with recipients. And after the meal comes cleanup.
But before Thanksgiving, volunteers are also working all week long. On Monday, John Rayhel scrubbed pots; Dave Schroeder helped Lindh roast and remove turkeys, and different shifts of four showed up for the deboning work.
Not that it was all work. They chatted about how they enjoy helping others, and even shared some anecdotes. Al Read joked that he was “disappointed” no one prayed for the souls of the departed turkeys, then shared a bit of history. Turkeys, he said, are so-called because early explorers transported a large fowl across Turkish territory in North Africa. “This big bird got nicknamed the Turkish chicken. In southeast Asia, they call the turkey the elephant chicken,” Read said.
“It’s just the whole reason of contributing a meal to the community. And it takes people to make it happen,” Joyce-Coda, a four-year volunteer, said.
Lindh, earlier, concurred. “Without the volunteers we couldn’t do anything. It’s just too hard,” he said.