How many cooks does it take to cook over 1,260 gourmet Thanksgiving meals?

by | Dec 18, 2023 | Food Pantry, Hunger, In the News

Reposted with permission from https://your.yale.edu/youryale/thanksgiving-all, by Lisa M. Maloney on Dec. 11, 2023 In 2015, Yale’s Culinary Support Center (CSC) took over the partnership with Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen (DESK) (previously held by Commons) to prepare turkey and all the trimmings for those in need. The “Thanksgiving for All” tradition feeds residents in the Greater New Haven area each November. With an army of volunteers, DESK staff, and the CSC team, food is collected, cooked, packaged, and then delivered on Thanksgiving morning. “It’s amazing that a small group of individuals working together can make a huge difference in the lives of so many,” said Anthony Marchitto, production manager and chef for Yale Hospitality.

Marchitto, who runs the culinary operations at CSC, is referencing his staff and colleagues — a team of chefs, cooks, and pantry workers who earnestly roast, whip, and wrap a savory Thanksgiving meal for New Haven residents who might otherwise go hungry. DESK, a community-based, non-profit organization, serves people experiencing homelessness or living in poverty by providing food assistance and services that promote health, community, and equity. It offers three year-round programs: a nightly dinner service, a weekly food pantry, and a Drop-In and Resource Center. A few weeks before the holiday, DESK coordinates a Turkey Drop event, collecting about 250 turkeys and 1,500 pounds of non-perishable items that complement a Thanksgiving meal. The CSC is Yale Hospitality’s central operation for baking, catering, and cold food production. With a staff of 40-strong, the CSC produces approximately 4,800 pounds (nearly 2.5 tons) of food each day for the university’s dining halls, retail locations, and catering. For DESK’S Thanksgiving program, the CSC prepare about 750 boxed meals that include oven-roasted turkey, homemade stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, roasted Brussels sprouts and harvest vegetables, and cranberry sauce. “Yale Hospitality is a terrific partner to work with at Thanksgiving and year-round. For the holiday, their team prepares an incredible culinary feast,” said Steve Werlin, executive director of DESK.

“It’s amazing that a small group of individuals working together can make a huge difference in the lives of so many.”

Yale Hospitality staff have supported DESK with the production process for many years. “DESK has limited space to store and cook all the turkeys donated to them. Around 20 years ago, a dedicated group of Yale Hospitality staff voluntarily took that on. They came in at night on their own time to prepare the meals utilizing the commercial-sized ovens in the former Commons kitchen,” said Dan Flynn, director of asset renewal and planned projects for Yale Hospitality.

From Freezer to Front-door

The turkeys collected during the Turkey Drop event are delivered to the CSC by DESK staff and volunteers. About 100 turkeys are thawed and processed for roasting, and any remaining turkeys are placed in a large walk-in refrigerator to slowly defrost. These turkeys are returned to DESK’s pantry, where families who want to cook their holiday dinner can pick one up along with other food items to make a Thanksgiving meal. After the turkeys and vegetables are roasted, potatoes mashed, and gravy simmered, everything is chilled. In assembly-line style, the meals are packed into individual to-go boxes. “Over the span of 2-weeks, dozens of Hospitality employees have had a hand in helping—from drivers, chefs, pantry workers, and cooks to support and logistics staff. It is a huge group effort, and everyone on the CSC team gets involved in addition to colleagues from other dining halls,” said Marchitto. The prepackaged meals are loaded onto a refrigerated truck and driven back to DESK, whose staff in partnership with Interfaith Volunteer Care Givers (IVCG) coordinate the meal delivery and manage the onsite pantry. Volunteers—who provide their own transportation—are given routes, names, addresses, and the boxed meals for delivery, and no meal would be complete without slices of locally donated pumpkin pie and bread. “We get to meet people in the community, wish them a Happy Thanksgiving, and see the positive impact of this initiative and a lot of smiles,” says Rafi Taherian, associate vice president for Yale Hospitality. Taherian, and his family have been volunteering with DESK for over 15 years, most recently delivering the holiday meals to residents on Thanksgiving morning.

History Lesson

For three decades, DESK has been coordinating some type of Thanksgiving program with Yale. “At one point, the DESK chefs would cook the turkey dinners, and students from the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project (YHHAP) would help serve the meals that morning in the basement of the Center Church’s Parish House,” said Taherian. The partnership was formalized in 2008 through Taherian’s leadership and passion for supporting New Haven neighbors. “I reached out to DESK seeking a direct way for Yale Hospitality to work with them. The collaboration has evolved beyond Thanksgiving,” said Taherian. “Donations and food rescue programs are ongoing, directly benefiting those in need. We also do a yearly fundraiser for DESK. Many members of our staff are very invested in supporting the local community and volunteer with DESK throughout the year.” To prepare for the program, the CSC team cooked 285 pounds of turkey, 1,200 pounds of vegetables, 36 gallons of cranberry sauce, and boxed 750 meals. City residents enjoyed a hearty meal provided by a dedicated group of individuals who don’t want anyone to go hungry. “When you are involved in something like this where you are feeding people, you are connected physically and emotionally to that type of giving. The togetherness you experience when collaborating with individuals who share the same passion is equally as rewarding,” said Taherian.

Interested in volunteering?

“Hunger exists 365 days a year,” says Werlin. “We always need volunteers to help serve daily meals in our dining hall, staff our pantry, or coordinate a food or coat drive. It doesn’t take a lot to make a huge difference in someone’s life, even just for one day.” There are a variety of opportunities to volunteer. DESK and Yale Hospitality partner throughout the year on daily food rescue and fundraising events, including the Annual Breaking Bread five-course dinner event held in March.

 

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