Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

November 18, 2011

Elks Thanksgiving no easy task

Area tradition continues; more than 1,000 meals to be prepared

Tim Preston
The Independent

ASHLAND — When members of the Ashland Elk’s Lodge say they’re cooking a ton of food for the community to share during Thanksgiving, they mean it.

It isn’t easy to coordinate, cook, pack, deliver and serve 1,200 to 1,400 holiday meals for the less fortunate, shut ins, or anyone who wishes to join the local Elks  for a sit-down dinner at their 900 Carter Ave. lodge. Mike Piatt, who coordinates the annual Thanksgiving dinner along with Mark Ison, said the group relies upon years of experience to get all the jobs done.

“We’ve got guys who all they do is prep and cook the turkeys and we’ve got others just in the kitchen and others that just want to fill trays,” Piatt said. “We have a crew to serve, a crew to deliver a crew to distribute desserts and then we’ve got a clean-up crew ... they’re a big help because  a lot of these people get in here at 5 in the morning and they’re pretty tired by 3 in the afternoon.”

Thanksgiving Dinner by Ashland Elks Lodge BPOE #350 will begin at 11 a.m. and continue until 3 p.m., Nov. 24. The traditional dinner, which became an Elk’s Lodge undertaking in 1992, will include freshly prepared items including approximately 900 pounds of turkey and 800 pounds of dressing along with a full compliment of side dishes including green beans, yams, mashed potatoes, gravy, dinner rolls and desserts.

Piatt said the meal began as a way of extending holiday warmth to local families who might not have a chance to enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner, then expanded to include deliveries to people who are shut-in and unable to visit the lodge for a meal, and soon opened to anyone who just wants a place to share the holiday meal with others.

“It definitely grew. Within five years we found there are no restaurants open on Thanksgiving and we have people traveling through, staying at local hotels and so on and they didn’t want to eat alone. And, we have single people who just don’t want to eat alone,” Piatt said. “It kind of grew out of that.”

Entire families often choose to enjoy their Thanksgiving meal at the local Elk’s Lodge, Piatt said, often for the fellowship they enjoy as well as the chance to support the effort while avoiding the hassles of cooking and clean-up at their own homes.

The dinners are offered free of charge, although donations are accepted to help offset the cost of food and preparation. Piatt estimated 60 people, including non-Elk members, are involved with the various tasks involved in assembling, serving and delivering so many meals.

“We’ll start prep this weekend. When you are cooking that much food you can’t wait until that morning to get started,” he said, noting Chuck Schubert’s team will begin making the dressing next week.

“It’s all fresh. He has a dressing crew that comes in on Wednesday and they start tearing up the bread and prepping and making the cornbread that goes in it, and they’ll get it ready to bake,” he said.

Even though the lodge currently has “an abundance of volunteers” for all jobs, Piatt said they will likely need a few more people to pitch in after 1:30 p.m. when the morning’s volunteers start to run out of steam. Anyone who is considered a shut-in is asked to call 324-5720 after 8:30 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day to request a meal.

“We ask those requesting delivery to truly be a shut in,” Piatt expressed.

TIM PRESTON can be reached at tpreston@dailyindependent.com.