Thankfully, Losing Power Doesn’t Stop Resourceful Volunteers from Making 1,300 Meals

December 5, 2014

by Len Lathrop

What time did you lose power on Wednesday and were you elbow deep in squash, potatoes, pies and, of course, turkey?

Now picture these 164 turkeys, 800 pounds of squash, the same amount of potatoes and then add hundreds of pounds of sweet potatoes and all the others fix-ins.  Let’s further compound that scenario by adding that many of the people with peelers and knives in their hands were teenagers helping with the food.  They were Scouts, both boys and girls, many family members, who might have begun when they were kids, there with their parents and now they were parents there with their children.  The goal was to have roughly 1,300 complete meals ready to be delivered on Thanksgiving Day, and then, without any fanfare or flicker, it was dark.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, it was the 27th time that the Hudson Fish and Game Club on Pine Road was getting ready to serve Thanksgiving dinner to folks who needed some help with a hot meal.

But back to the Thanksgiving tale as what happened next amused those there who were over say 50 years old.  Out of pockets came cell phones switched to the flashlight application with two or three at each table, and people went back to work.  Being on the turkey carving team, we kept cutting and it seemed that things just happened.  Within 20 minutes, a generator was retrieved from Arlain LaCassie’s home just around the corner, several halogen work lamps were powered and full production was continued.

While the individual slices of pie were put in containers, the last of the turkeys were deconstructed; breast meat isn’t cut until the morning to keep it from drying out.  Sixty-quart cooking pots –large enough to need two full-size men to move– were filled and readied to be cooked starting at 4 a.m. Thanksgiving Day.  A row of propane burners was in line to do 15 pots (giant pots) all at the same time.

It was about 7:45 p.m.  Most volunteers were gone, except for several club members, who were “relaxing” and making sure everything was ready for morning.  They were in the “well,” just the name of the room in the club.  This turkey carver went home to a heated house and maybe a cup of hot coffee, but was home for less than an hour when there was a big bang and the house went dark.  Out came the generator and, thankfully, it started.

Set the phone alarm for 5:15 a.m.; the turkey cutting crew started again to slice the breasts at 6 a.m.  On Pine Road the generator was running and the temporary lights were or at least seemed brighter than the night before by 7 a.m. Work stopped for five minutes –not a union break for volunteers– as the generator was wired into the electrical panel.  The club seemed Thanksgiving Day normal except for the generator sound from the other side of the building.

One hundred and fifty pounds of sausage stuffing was being rotated in the oven, Chief Rudy was making gravy and turkey wings were being roasted.  Ever have a turkey wing?   That was a special treat at 7:30 in the morning for the early Saturday crew who found it amazing.  Buffet pans kept coming in from the “well” where the big three squash, sweet potatoes and regular potatoes are cooked, water drained off.  Then, using a special mixing head on a one horsepower drill, each was mixed and butter was added by the pound and scooped into the buffet pans, which were covered with aluminum foil and labeled to be kept warm.

Back in the main room, all the breast meat has been sliced, and the assembly line is intact.  John Weldon lines up the cookers in the same order as they were last year and the many years before that.  In the firing range, Tammy Curran, the second generation of the Knox family to organize and run the event, has people filling the gravy containers as fast as Chef Rudy has it made.

Other people are coming into the club; it is 10 o’clock.  The assembly line is ready except for the peas.  It’s 10:20 a.m., and one of the giant pots is being carried in by two large men.

Weldon is showing first timers how to hold two Styrofoam containers at once and explaining to the servers how much is the standard portion.  At 10:30 it starts.  There are eight cases of 150 each of the Styrofoam containers, and the first meals are assembled.  The containers move to the firing range, where the gravy container, cranberry sauce, rolls, fresh fruit and, of course, pies are put together.  Meals are counted, drivers are instructed, and bags are labeled with the address and directions.  Tammy has been setting up this computerized labeling system for several months.  And out the back door the complete meals go.

Let’s not forget that the Fish and Game Club still doesn’t have any electrical power from the grid as these meals leave the club and is still run on a generator.

While I only mentioned a few of the volunteers by name, many, many more worked for weeks to make this happen.  Everyone has been making this a very special day for 1,300 people who needed a hot meal.

Hopefully your dinner without power had the great ending as did this one.  Many ‘Thumbs Up’ to everyone involved.