In a small garage next to the Joseph L. Davis American Legion Post 47 in Havre de Grace, Fred Wills and his team of volunteers cooked a lot of turkeys Monday.
Wills works with Community Projects of Havre de Grace Inc., which has organized free Thanksgiving dinners for the community every year for 33 years. On Monday, three days before Thanksgiving, the volunteers focused on entrees, and the seven chefs from the area worked like a well-oiled machine — prepping, roasting, and carving the turkeys in their makeshift kitchen.
“We’ll do about 100 today and probably another 40 tomorrow,” Wills said.
The meals will be taken to the Havre de Grace Community Center on Thursday. Under normal circumstances, roughly one third of the dinners would be eaten family-style at the community center, Wills said, but for the second straight year, because of the pandemic, they either will be delivered by volunteers or available for pickup.
This, though, did not deter interest; quite the opposite, in fact. The Thanksgiving dinner project has grown exponentially in the time it has been around. Wills told The Aegis a few years ago the team was getting requests for 800 or 900 meals. Now, for the second year in a row, the team has received 1,500 requests, the maximum number of meals they can prepare.
Volunteers do not seem dissuaded by COVID-19 either; last year, during the height of the pandemic, roughly 250 to 300 showed up to assist.
This year, the organizers have continued with operational adjustments to ensure volunteers — most of whom are not formally affiliated with Community Project of Havre de Grace Inc. — are safe.
Only around 50 people will be allowed in the actual community center building at one time; the rest will be assigned to outdoor or delivery duties. Everyone will be required to wear a mask and gloves (though this is generally required of food service workers.) The organization is also keeping a log of who is delivering each meal as a means of contact tracing in case anyone is exposed to COVID-19, Wills said.
In each day leading up to Thanksgiving, more food was prepared. On Tuesday, the volunteers used turkey bones to make stock for a whopping 40 gallons of homemade gravy. The final menu includes sweet and mashed potatoes, corn, beans, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and dessert.
Some ingredients were donated and some were purchased from local supermarkets at a discount. The entire endeavor was made possible by a community of people who want their neighbors to have a nice holiday.
“It’s just volunteers from the local restaurants, people, other businessmen in town,” Wills said. “Everybody comes out and supports. It’s a crew that’s been together for a few years now.”