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Volunteers see Thanksgiving meal as a help, not a chore

November 23, 2011|By MARIE GILBERT | marieg@herald-mail.com
  • Hagerstown Community College sociology student Jane Lasher unpacks desserts Tuesday for the Thanksgiving meal at Lifehouse Church West. This is the second year that Daniel Madron's students have participated in the outreach project.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

Six hundred pounds of turkey.

One thousand guests.

Two days of Thanksgiving dinners.

And you thought you were cooking for a crowd.

The challenge of preparing a large quantity of food for a large number of people hasn't been lost on the more than 70 young people who volunteered to provide holiday meals this week at The Salvation Army and Lifehouse Church West in Hagerstown.

From the beginning, they've been aware of the hours that would be spent fundraising, shopping, cooking and baking.

But they've never looked at it as a chore.

Instead, it's a way to help those in need.

This is the second year that students of Hagerstown Community College sociology instructor Daniel Madron have participated in the outreach project.

And, although many have limited culinary skills, they've quickly learned their way around a kitchen. They've also learned something about themselves and the community in which they live.

"It's a chance to experience sociology in the real world," Madron said.

In addition to the meals at Lifehouse West, served on Nov. 22 and today at The Salvation Army, the students are providing dinners to five families through the Community Action Council and will be handing out 50 dinners that Bob Evans Restaurant has donated to CAC.

"My guess is we will reach more than 1,000 people this Thanksgiving," Madron said.

The entire project, he noted, "all comes from the students, who are involved in food raising, food preparation, serving, delivery, cleanup or some combination. It's really cool to see this whole process work."

Madron said the students have been discussing the outreach project since the beginning of the semester and began seriously planning the meals about a month ago.

The biggest job, he said, is cooking the turkeys. This week, the students expected to cook about 20 turkeys at each location or about 600 pounds of poultry.

"The turkeys are cooked ahead of time," Madron explained, "so it takes some advance preparation."

In addition to turkey, the students also prepare pounds of mashed potatoes, yams, green beans, rolls, cranberry sauce and pie.

Madron said volunteers at Lifehouse West "do a lot of the preparation and we do the serving. At The Salvation Army, we do most of the preparation and serving. I asked that we prepare the food so that my students understand what goes on in places like this. It also gives normal workers a break."

Madron said many people take Thanksgiving dinner for granted, while some families have to make tough decisions. Do you spend $50 for the meal or the light bill?

"I recognize that many families deal with this, and that is why we try and make this dinner special — as homecooked and authentic as we can," he said.

Madron said some of the students have had some meal preparation and serving experience through social or church events.

"But for most students, this will be their first exposure to something this big," he said.

Those who volunteer to cook and bake are usually at the site during the early morning hours.

Afterward, he said, he's heard nothing but good feedback from the students who consider it a special experience.

"Those who are eating the meal usually enjoy themselves, as well," Madron added.  "Something that is a little different from a normal day at The Salvation Army is that we seat them and we serve them. We come by with a drink, then their meal, then dessert. It is all about them."

The idea of serving meals to the community came about when Madron was an undergraduate at Eastern University in Philadelphia, he said.

"A sociology class sparked my interest about social equality. I thought it would be nice to provide the street homeless in Philadelphia with a bagged lunch and hot cup of coffee on Thanksgiving morning," he noted.

When he began teaching at Howard Community College, Madron said he wanted to do the same — provide lunches and drinks to the homeless on the streets of Baltimore. 

"When I moved to Hagerstown last year, I felt that it was important to the community that my students and I get involved — and in a much bigger way than before," he said. "We are the community's college, after all, which, in my eyes means that not only are we to prepare students to be educated contributors to our community, but to serve the community, as well."

In addition to preparing and serving Thanksgiving dinners, Madron said the students are involved in other outreach projects throughout the year, including meals at Easter.

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