Organized chaos reigned at Iowa Central Community College’s Hanson Center on Thursday morning as Iowa Central culinary arts students stormed through the kitchen to finish cooking Thanksgiving ingredients and volunteers prepared hundreds of takeout meals for Fort Dodge Ford Lincoln Toyota’s annual Community Thanksgiving served and wrapped dinner.
While most other classmates went home for fall break, 11 students in the college’s culinary arts program decided to stay and cook for more than 2,000 members of the Fort Dodge community.
“That’s what Iowa Central is all about.” said chef Michael Hirst, director of Iowa Central’s Culinary Arts Program. “We keep the word ‘community’ in our name because the school is part of the community and it’s important that it stays that way.”
For the past 15 years, Fort Dodge Ford has hosted a free Thanksgiving dinner in the community of its dealer showroom at 2723 Fifth Ave. S. The tradition began when owner Casey Johnson and his family were celebrating Thanksgiving for their family and had the idea of hosting a dinner and the vendor came up with it.
Johnson said he naively thought he would cook the food himself, but luckily his wife, Deb Johnson, suggested he work with Iowa Central and its culinary arts program instead.
“This partnership has grown from that first year of 350 meals to this year of well over 2,000 meals,” said Casey Johnson. “Without Iowa Central, it would be next to impossible for us to do this.”
Preparations for Thursday dinner began weeks ago with ordering the needed food supplies. They also spent two days deboning the 75 turkeys that would be cooked and served, and several days cleaning and chopping the vegetables.
“It was a lot of work” said Harrison Tille, a Humboldt cooking student.
Cutting the 300 pounds of green beans took four and a half hours, Tille said.
To prepare the 400 pounds of potatoes, the students held a potato peeling competition on Wednesday. Fonda student Jael Coon was the winner, peeling 50 pounds of potatoes in one hour and 12 minutes.
“It’s a really good way of learning how catering works, like a caterer.” said Coon.
Without the many hours that students put into preparing and cooking Thursday dinner, there are many members of the congregation who would not be able to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner.
“We want to help people in need” said Tille.
In addition to the more than 800 meals delivered, about 1,200 community members were served Thursday at the Fort Dodge Ford dealership’s showroom.
“It’s really fulfilling to cook and to have people enjoying your cooking.” said Coon.
According to Barb Michaels and Nancy Lombard, Fort Dodge Ford employees who organize the volunteers, there were 17 teams that delivered more than 800 Thanksgiving meals to area residents.
Michaels said she thinks the number of volunteers who help out at this dinner each year speaks to the kindness and generosity of the Fort Dodge community.
“I think it shows what a caring community we are and how generous people are.” She said. “They take a few hours out of their Thanksgiving day to help other people and make it a good day for them.”
Casey Johnson said he never has to ask for Thanksgiving dinner volunteers — dozens of volunteers call each year to see how they can help. He estimated that around 200 volunteers helped on Thursday.
Through the numbers
of Brussels sprouts
300 pounds green beans
400 pounds of potatoes
200 pounds of corn
100 pounds of bacon
50 pounds of mushrooms
of cranberry sauce
55 gallons turkey broth