Crafting a holiday feast for 1,400 or more isn’t easy, although Ashland Elks have a system to make sure every plate has plenty.
“It’s like a fine, well-oiled machine. Everybody knows their job,” said Elk Mark Ison, citing this year’s Thanksgiving dinner for the community marking the second decade of experience for the lodge members.
The effort began 20 years ago with 400 guests and has since grown by more than a thousand servings, Ison explained, estimating 150 Elks and an additional 100 volunteers will be involved from start to finish of this year’s gathering. “We’ve never said ‘No’ to a volunteer. We encourage people to come out and to bring their family,” Ison said, noting volunteers serve many purposes including delivering meals to shut-ins, welcoming guests, seating people and serving meals, drinks and desserts.
The Elks’ kitchen crew started cooking at 4 a.m. a couple of days ago, checking off missions including the roasting of 37 turkeys and pulling 900 pounds of meat off the bone and dividing it into light and dark meat, or preparing 800 pounds of from-scratch dressing according to their own time-tested recipe. “This is not Stove Top,” Ison said with pride, explaining the dressing team begins by making bread crumbs and working their way through ingredients including broth, celery and sage.
“That bunch comes in tomorrow (Tuesday) and Wednesday,” he said Monday afternoon, noting the teams work in phases as dictated by kitchen space. And, when the last meal has been served and everyone else has gone home, Elks Randy Williams and Gary Scott, often with the help of their family members, will swoop in for cleanup duty.
“They’ll do everything from scrub the floor to cleaning the serving lines,” Ison said.
Along with the turkey and dressing, Ison said the menu for Thursday’s Thanksgiving feast will offer guests a plate filled with mashed potatoes, green beans, sweet potatoes/yams, followed by a choice of desserts including cakes and pies provided by an Elk whose identity is a guarded secret.
People who need a meal delivered are asked to call the lodge at 324-5720 between 8:30 and 11 a.m. Ison emphasized the delivered meals are strictly for people who are truly unable to come to the lodge on Carter Avenue.
“The shut-ins need to be people who are truly shut in and can’t make it out of the house. It’s made for people that really needs it,” Ison said.
The community is welcomed to the dining room at the lodge between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., where their meals will be served on real plates with actual silverware. Members of the Elks and their supporters cover the cost of the holiday feast, although “all donations are welcome,” Ison said.
TIM PRESTON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.