Escalon’s Community Center was humming with activity on Thanksgiving Day.
From those who came in to dine on a traditional holiday meal to those packing up the boxes for home delivery, there was a festive feel to the day.
Wednesday, student chefs from the Modesto Institute of Technology, culinary division, were busy for several hours getting the turkeys cooked, sliced and preparing many of the side dishes to serve as part of the feast. There was also a set up crew of community volunteers that got the tables and chairs set up, the tables decorated and ready for diners. On Thursday, a crew of volunteers arrived to start boxing up the home deliveries and the ‘to go’ orders, as well as those that were ready to work in the kitchen and dining area to serve the eat-in crowd.
This was the first year that student chefs did the cooking and among those on hand to supervise on Wednesday was Chef Maria Mora, an instructor at the Institute.
“I love it,” Mora said of the service project that involved several students. “It’s a way to give back to the community, especially for Thanksgiving, it’s wonderful. The students are enjoying it.”
The holiday meal included the traditional turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, rolls, salad, cranberry sauce, a potato-tomato-green bean dish and pumpkin pie for dessert, along with juice and coffee.
Mora said the bulk of the dishes were made from scratch, giving students the opportunity to cook on a large scale and providing a freshly made holiday meal for the community.
The Community Thanksgiving Dinner is open to all, at no cost, and is provided through support of the Escalon Ministerial Association and with donations from the community.
Along with the dine-in, with that portion of the event coordinated by Dianna Dunn and the take-outs/deliveries supervised by DeeAnna Jackson, several hundred meals were served altogether.
Dunn said it was “a blessing” to have the student chefs and their instructors do the ‘heavy lifting’ in preparing the turkeys and main dishes and diners also gave the meal a thumbs up.
Jetty Hartgrove, 97 years young, said the turkey and dressing was her favorite part.
“We came last year and we do the senior lunches,” Jetty said of herself and son Richard.
As for still going strong at 97, she added “I eat right, exercise and I eat fruit every day.”
Richard said it was enjoyable to eat with others at the Community Center for the Thanksgiving meal and was like a ‘homecoming” for him since he grew up in Escalon and had the chance to visit with fellow diners, including Larry Matthews, who sat at the table with them.
Matthews said it was his first time taking part in the meal and he also enjoyed the day.
Brothers Casey and Dave den Ouden shared their table with friend Cathy Ensley in what has become their special Thanksgiving tradition.
“I always come and enjoy the dinner with my friends, the den Ouden boys,” Ensley said, smiling.
Elsewhere, the trio of Ron Eastwood, John Barrett and Dave Webster shared a table and enjoyed the meal, while volunteers took orders and delivered heaping plates of food.
Second helpings were encouraged, with the goal of no one going away hungry.
In the kitchen, mom Megan Dyk was among those working on the assembly line to fill the food plates while children Matthew, 9, and Gracelyn, 8, were helping out wherever needed.
“I think it’s a good experience for the kids to come help with this community effort,” she said.
Eleven-year-old Cassandra Flores was among the youngsters working in the dining room, making sure people had enough food and drink.
“I like to help out,” she said. “I was here a couple of years ago and now this year.”
College student Kyle Jones is from Idaho but attends Fresno Pacific University and was spending the Thanksgiving holiday with the Rigg family, joining them in their family tradition of helping out at the dinner. He was kept busy taking the boxes for home deliveries to the cars of volunteer delivery drivers.
“It’s great,” he said of the community dinner. “I’m from a small town too and it’s great to part of this experience.”
Over 200 meals were delivered, accounting for more than 50 locations around the community, said Jackson. Others came in to pick up meals to take home and she said that number was up from last year. They hope to flip it next year, so more people come in to the Community Center for the feast.
“The idea is we want people that would be alone or not have family in the area to come and eat here, to socialize, that’s the reason we want to do this,” she said.
For the elderly and shut-ins that can’t get to the Community Center, the delivery drivers provided a smile and a home cooked meal for them to enjoy on the holiday.
Dunn agreed that they hope to see more people eating in next year but was happy that so many residents were able to receive a traditional dinner through the efforts of donors and volunteers.