There was organized chaos in Iowa Central Community College’s Hanson Center on Thursday morning as Iowa Central’s Culinary Arts students dashed around the kitchen to finish cooking the Thanksgiving fixings and volunteers plated and packed hundreds of to-go meals for Fort Dodge Ford Lincoln Toyota’s annual community Thanksgiving dinner.
While most of the rest of their classmates went home for the week for fall break, 11 students in the college’s culinary arts program opted 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 it stays that way.”
For the last 15 years, Fort Dodge Ford has hosted a free community Thanksgiving dinner at its dealership showroom, 2723 Fifth Ave. S. The tradition started when owner Casey Johnson and his family were having their family Thanksgiving and the idea of hosting a meal at the dealership came up.
Johnson said he naively thought he would cook the food himself, but fortunately, his wife, Deb Johnson, proposed they partner with Iowa Central and its culinary arts program instead.
“That partnership has grown from that first year of 350 meals to this year of well over 2,000 meals,” Casey Johnson said. “Without Iowa Central, it would be pretty much impossible for us to do this.”
The preparation for Thursday’s dinner started weeks ago ordering the food supplies needed. They also spent two days deboning the 75 turkeys that were going to be cooked and served and several days cleaning and chopping the vegetables.
“It was a lot of work,” said Harrison Tille, a culinary student from Humboldt.
The 300 pounds of green beans took four-and-a-half hours to cut, Tille said.
To prepare the 400 pounds of potatoes, the students had a potato peeling contest on Wednesday. Student Jael Coon, of Fonda, was the victor, peeling 50 pounds of potatoes in one hour and 12 minutes.
“It’s a really good way of learning how catering works, like large-scale catering,” said Coon.
Without the hours upon hours the students put into preparing and cooking Thursday’s meal, there are many members of the community who wouldn’t have a Thanksgiving meal to enjoy.
“We want to help people that need it,” Tille said.
In addition to the more than 800 meals delivered, about 1,200 community members were served at the Fort Dodge Ford dealership showroom on Thursday.
“It’s really fulfilling to cook and have people enjoy your cooking,” said Coon.
According to Barb Michaels and Nancy Lombard, Fort Dodge Ford employees who organize the volunteers, there were 17 teams who delivered more than 800 Thanksgiving meals to area homebound residents.
Michaels said she thinks the number of volunteers who help with this dinner every year speaks to the kindness and generosity of the Fort Dodge community.
“I think it says what a caring community we are and how giving people are,” she said. “They’ll take a few hours 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 volunteers for the Thanksgiving dinner — each year, dozens of volunteers call to see how they can help. He estimated there were about 200 volunteers helping on Thursday.
By the Numbers
of Brussels sprouts
300 pounds of green beans
400 pounds of potatoes
200 pounds of corn
100 pounds of bacon
50 pounds of mushrooms
of cranberry sauce
55 gallons of turkey broth