Turkeypalooza provides hundreds of local families with Thanksgiving meals

Members of the leadership of Elon Dining, continued its tradition of preparing and delivering hundreds of Thanksgiving meals to the Alamance County community.

Five hundred pounds of turkey and even more Thanksgiving side dishes made their way from the Lakeside Dining Hall kitchen to the tables of local families in need this week.

Harvest Table Culinary Group, which operates Elon Dining, continued a special tradition Tuesday morning as staff came together to give back as a part of the annual Turkeypalooza. Each year the Elon Dining management team prepares hundreds of Thanksgiving meals to be delivered to community partners who then provide them to members of the local community.

Laura Thompson, regional district manager for Harvest Table, prepares to cut turkey during Turkeypalooza 2020. (photo by Kim Walker)

“We don’t just want to be seen as the dining program,” said Laura Thompson, regional district manager for Harvest Table. “Supporting local businesses, supporting the local community is important to us. We’re not just the university feeding the students, it’s really about the whole community.”

Twenty members of the Elon Dining management team prepared Thanksgiving meals containing all of the holiday staples – turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, macaroni and cheese, dinner rolls, and cookies for dessert. The meals allow Elon Dining staff to share their love of good food with the community while spreading holiday cheer.

“We chose this profession because we love taking care of people, and this is like the next level of taking care of people,” said Executive Chef Jay Vetter. “It already makes me so happy every day when I see what our team does to feed the students at Elon, but to deliver these meals to people in need, it does your heart good.”

Executive Chef Jay Vetter cuts turkey as Elon Dining staff prepares to deliver meals to community partners ahead of Thanksgiving. (photo by Kim Walker)

This year, the staff prepared 500 meals with half going to First Baptist Church of Burlington, and the other half being delivered to Allied Churches of Alamance County. Each organization provides the meals to the community during the week of Thanksgiving.

The food preparation and meal delivery have become a meaningful bonding experience that the group looks forward to each year.

“It’s one of my favorite traditions, and I love to help out because it brings the team together for a good cause and it provides for a community that is in great need, especially with the pandemic,” said Director of Auxiliary Services Carrie Ryan ’02 G’10, who oversees campus dining.

For the first time, the management team also prepared an additional 250 meals for Elon Dining staff members as a show of gratitude for the team’s hard work and dedication during a difficult year.

Chef Myles Hamilton prepares green beans during Turkeypalooza 2020. (photo by Kim Walker)

On Wednesday, Elon Dining staff delivered the meals to First Baptist Church in Burlington and Allied Churches of Alamance County. Catering director Michelle Campos-Gregoris led a caravan of team members through Alamance County as she drove a large box truck filled with meals from location to location. Campos-Gregoris says the opportunity to hand-deliver each meal and know they’re going to make Thanksgiving special for her neighbors brings her great joy.

“It’s one of the best feelings in the world because it gives us a sense of helping out those in our community that may be dealing with food insecurity,” she said. “It’s great knowing that this will make a difference in someone’s life.”

Elon Dining team members load prepared meals for delivery.

This year’s deliveries were especially meaningful because they happened despite difficulties surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. Although it was originally unclear whether Elon Dining would have the opportunity to continue the tradition this year, the management team was committed to making it possible.

“We decided that we were going to do it no matter what, and so it makes us feel really good that we’re able to take care of the surrounding community as well as the Elon community,” Thompson said. “It’s special – I think more special this year with everything going on.”

And as families across Alamance County sit down to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal with family this week, Elon Dining staff are grateful for the opportunity to give back to the community that they call home.

“This is the time of the year when we can use our skill set to bring people together,” Vetter said. “It’s exciting to think about people gathering around the table on Thanksgiving and know we had a part in it. Hopefully memories will be made, people will be nourished and this can put some smiles on some faces.”