At University of Maryland Thanksgiving dinner, 'it's an information center and a meal'

Prepping 75 boxes of potatoes & almost 5 gallons of gravy? That's "every day."

For many Thanksgiving chefs, organizing a meal with one turkey — let alone 44 — is daunting. For Booker T. Washington Middle School for the Arts cafeteria manager Sheila Travers, whose kitchen serves hundreds of students, the job is "every day."

"Minus the kids, but it's like every day," said Travers, as she monitored the food remaining from the annual Thanksgiving meal for the needy organized by students from the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

More than 400 people dropped in Thursday, taking plates piled high with the holiday staples: in all, some 80 cans of corn, 100 cans of green beans, 200 packs of dinner rolls, 75 boxes of potatoes and nearly five gallons of gravy. Some also carried out leftovers, clothing or fresh produce donated by Hungry Harvest LLC, a CSA-like company that gives away one bag of produce for every bag it sells.

Turnout in the last few years has been on the larger side, said Travers, who has participated for more than 14 years and credited the economy for the crowds, not her cooking.

"We ate at the McDonald's this morning. We go back to McDonald's tonight," said Thuirmus L. Williams, 55, who said he has lived in a homeless shelter since 2003, when he suffered a stroke. "This is far better than that, and far more wholesome."

The annual "Project Feast" event, in its 25th year, costs about $6,000, and is funded through contributions from medical school alumni and the student government, said co-organizer Ya Zhou, 24, a second-year medical student.

This year, Zhou said roughly 100 volunteers — a mix of community members, classmates and students and staff from other University of Maryland, Baltimore schools — registered to participate, and about 50 others dropped by on the day to help distribute food, perform blood-pressure screenings and offer counseling.

"It's an information center with a meal," said Micah Tutein, 56, who accompanied Williams to the school, after hearing about the event through word of mouth.

Then he returned to the business at hand, going for a plate of coconut pie.

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