In just barely one week, the kitchen area of the Gene Bianchi Community Center will once again be clanking and moving. Twenty one years later, the Spirit of Oakdale community meal is more than an institution; it is a fine oiled machine. On Thursday, Nov. 27 the small army and committee will once again open the doors at 11 a.m. and serve up a free Thanksgiving meal to anyone who stops by.
“It’s amazing the people you see in that kitchen,” Vickie Thompson said of the committee and its volunteers. “From between 6 p.m. Wednesday night and then starting again at 7 a.m. Thursday morning, that kitchen is hopping.”
Thompson shared that the core committee ranges between 50 to 60 people who, 21 years after staging the first community meal, somehow work seamlessly at prepping over 80 turkeys, 300 to 400 pounds of potatoes and 300 to 400 pounds of yams.
“It’s my Thanksgiving dinner I would have if my parents were alive,” Thompson said of the all-fresh meal. “There’s none of the fabricated crap.”
The veteran committee member shared that planning and purchasing for the event tends to be a year round occurrence.
“I really never put it to rest,” Thompson said, noting that she is always on the lookout for bargains
The Spirit of Oakdale committee itself begins formal preparations at the beginning of September for the traditional Thanksgiving feast.
While the group doesn’t want for volunteers, each year there is always a need for help in the area of both turkeys and desserts.
“We need both cooked turkeys, as well as people to cook the 40 turkeys we have in Bachi’s walk-in,” Thompson said.
According to Thompson one of the most stressful factors each year is how to get all the turkeys cooked in time for prep (i.e.: slicing and deboning Wednesday night).
“We really don’t need people bringing us cooked turkeys on Thanksgiving Day, desserts, sure … that we can handle,” she said. “In the way of turkeys, we need them ahead of time so that we can prep them and then reheat them that morning to serve.
“If there are people who can’t afford to buy a turkey to donate, they can swing by H-B and pick one up to cook at home. We just need them returned to us by Wednesday (Nov. 26).”
Turkeys (to cook) will be available for pick-up beginning Saturday, Nov. 22 at H-B. Desserts may be dropped off throughout the Thanksgiving week at H-B or at the latest Wednesday night between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. at the Community Center.
“They can also bring them by Thanksgiving morning as early as 8 a.m.,” Thompson added, in reference to the desserts. “We’ll be there.”
Thompson also reiterated that the community meal is not one based on financial need or economic status. It is for anyone in the community.
“Not everyone has a place to go on Thanksgiving,” she said. “We want to make sure they do.”
The dinner is served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; diners are welcome to come at any time during that time frame to eat and socialize.
“I said at 20 years I’m gonna quit,” Thompson admitted. “Then I said at 25 years I’m gonna quit. I want to make sure when I do hand it over, I want that person to be okay if no money comes in to support it that first year. We work hard to do that.”