On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Emily Ecker, head chef at the usually seafood-centric RockSalt Grille, in Westminster, was breaking down turkey breasts next to a pot of gravy deep enough to drown two gobblers whole.
“I’ve made 14 whole turkeys, which weigh 15 to 18 pounds a piece, and I also have 18 turkey breasts, which range about 10 to 12 pounds, so a lot of turkey,” she said of her past two days in the kitchen “Honestly it’s something I’ve always loved doing, and who doesn’t love turkey for Thanksgiving?”
For the second year, RockSalt Grille is providing the turkeys for The Shepherd’s Staff’s annual Thanksgiving Day Community Dinner. It’s a free Thanksgiving meal to be served from noon to 3 p.m. Thursday at the St. Johns Portico, 43 Monroe St., in Westminster. It is open to anyone who needs a bite, some company, or both during the holiday, according to The Shepherd’s Staff Volunteer and Event Coordinator Kathy Reid.
That can include the homeless; struggling working families with children; or, “an older couple who are home and have no children, and are going to have dinner by themselves,” she said.
“Anybody, who is alone, it gives them a place to come to have some camaraderie and a really, really good meal.”
Reid would know, having seen them all: This marks the 25th anniversary of the meal, and she was there when it started.
“The Shepherd’s Staff first started this in 1993, and in 1993 and ’94 I was a volunteer and helped out,” she said. “I started doing it in the mid-90s, probably about ’95 or so, coordinating it, and I’ve been doing it every year since then. It’s a labor of love.”
This year brings a few changes to the event. There’s RockSalt doing the cooking rather than long-time chef Cal Bloom, whom Reid said was unavailable this year.
“We’re very glad to be a part of it and hope this will be an annual thing,” said Lee Nardyz, co-owner, with his wife Susan Nardyz, of the RockSalt Grille. “Last year we served about 300 meals and took about 100 meals to people who couldn’t make it in.”
And then there is the change of venue.
“In the past, we’ve had it in the cafeteria at St. Johns, and our guests come through the cafeteria line and then go and sit down on the benches, the school benches,” Reid said. “Father Mark Bialek, the pastor at St. Johns, this year has offered us the Portico, where they have dances and events. It’s very nice.”
“This year it’s going to be a plated meal instead of the buffet style we did last year. The guests come in and sit down and we actually serve all the fixings to them right at the table,” Lee Nardyz added. “A little bit more of a dining experience.”
Nardyz said about 25 of his employees are volunteering to serve and help cook sides on Thursday as well, Ecker included.
“These are my plans for this year,” Ecker said. “We are also providing all the pumpkin pies and [Thursday] I will be making all the gravy, all the sides, mashed potatoes, green beans.”
Another new element this year will be free transportation from three corners of Carroll County courtesy of Hampstead Pre-Owned.
“They called and they really wanted to get involved,” Reid said. “What they are doing is they are providing vans around the county at different places that pick up people.”
According to Hampstead Pre-Owned Office Manager Wendy Herrera, volunteers will be picking up people from around 11:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. from the Hampstead Pre-Owned location at 1111 S. Main St., Hampstead, the New Windsor volunteer fire company at 101 High St., New Windsor, and the Eldersburg branch of the Carroll County Public Library at 6400 W. Hemlock Drive, Eldersburg, to take them to the meal. They will be providing rides back as well.
Reid said Hampstead Pre-Owned has also collected winter coats and had them cleaned at Admiral Cleaners.
“We will be giving those away free also,” she said.
There’s no need to register for a ride or a seat at the table for Thursday’s meal, Reid said.
“We don’t take reservations,” she said. “It’s come on in and we’ll serve you. We will be serving from noon to 3 p.m.”