Think your Thanksgiving dinner is going to be challenging to put together?
Then think about a dinner that requires 125 turkeys, 30 full-size foil pans of gravy, 1,350 dinner rolls and 230 pumpkin pies.
That’s the scale the Salvation Army has to work with to feed some of Kansas City’s homeless and needy this Thanksgiving. Like other area organizations that will open their kitchens Thursday, planning a dinner for hundreds is controlled chaos, coordinators say.
Because the meals must be fresh and hot on Thanksgiving Day, it takes a lot of volunteers cycling through an assembly-line procedure to make it work — days in advance.
The organization hosts dinner at its Linwood Boulevard location and will deliver more than 700 meals to people across the area on Thanksgiving.
“It’s way too many,” Tanya Johannes said, laughing as she listed off more ingredients from the Salvation Army’s sizable shopping list — which includes 40 pounds of butter and 11/2 gallons of seasoning and spices.
The hundreds of volunteers sign up for specific jobs so coordinators like Johannes, who has been supervising the kitchen effort for the last six years, can orchestrate a schedule to keep the Thanksgiving dinner assembly line moving. They’re all trained beforehand, too.
“It’s totally production,” she said. “It takes staffing patterns. It’s just pretty outrageous.”
On Tuesday afternoon, one batch of volunteers was already at work, deboning turkeys into large foil trays. Gloves on hands, hairnets covering heads, they chatted with one another as they systematically carried trays of turkey meat to a large kitchen.
Josephine Thomas, 74, and Martha Fletcher, 73, have been volunteering with the Salvation Army for decades, including for holiday programs like the Thanksgiving dinner.
“I say it’s my turn to help them, because they helped me when I was coming with my children,” said Thomas, who is retired. “My family’s grown and gone. Now I’m helping some other families.”
And Fletcher thinks it’s the Salvation Army’s organization that makes it easy to do that — especially when it comes to putting on a dinner for hundreds.
“Their volunteer program is really well-organized,” she said.
In August, coordinators were already recruiting volunteers. In September, the first big planning meetings began. Then came the task of corralling supplies and organizing events like the turkey donation drive the Salvation Army held at Hy-Vee on Monday.
On Thursday, heating, assembling meals and making sides all fall to volunteers. Those tasked with making gravy show up around 5 a.m. Thanksgiving morning. And more than 100 drivers stand ready to deliver meals.
The Rescue Mission also needs major planning to put on nine days of Thanksgiving dinners through the Sunday after Turkey Day. The group orchestrates in-house meals, and its volunteers also deliver 500 hot meals Thanksgiving Day to those who aren’t able to travel to a dinner.
“It’s a scary adventure, but it always ends up being a lot of fun,” said Julie Larocco, chief development officer at the Kansas City Rescue Mission. “I don’t think anybody goes home saying, ‘Boy, I’m glad that’s over.’ ”
The planning starts as early as September. Once the Rescue Mission knows about how many families it will be serving, it starts asking “unabashedly” for donations. It also lines up volunteers.
“It’s been really cool,” she said. “People get so excited about not just the opportunity to deliver meals but imagining that it’s their turkey, their pumpkin pie.”