For many of Jacksonville’s homeless, Wednesday was their Thanksgiving. It’s when City Rescue Mission downtown serves up a holiday feast for an estimated 1,200 people in need.
About an hour before serving, the kitchen was relatively calm – impressive considering cooks have baked 65 turkeys and whipped up all the fixins of a traditional Thanksgiving meal.
Pans of yams, macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes were finished and being kept warm. City Rescue Mission Executive Director Penny Kievet said the nonprofit recruits volunteers to come in and pull all the meat off the turkeys.
“As you can imagine with that many turkeys it takes four or five hours," she said.
But Kievet said all the prep started a week ago, describing the process as a well-oiled machine.
“In fact I was in the kitchen yesterday and I asked Miss B, who is our kitchen manager, how she was doing,” Kievet said. “She said ‘we’re ahead. The only thing I have to do tomorrow morning is make the mashed potatoes.’”
Kitchen manager Miss B, or Brenda Smith, whose been working at CRM for the past 19 years, was wearing a red chef’s coat, helping clean up before the feast. She and her students in CRM’s “Life Builders” drug and alcohol recovery program cook all the meals including Wednesday’s special fare.
The food is paid for with small donations and one main family sponsor. Smith takes a lot of pride in what she and her team creates with the canned green beans and instant potatoes.
“[For the mashed potatoes] we do milk, we do a little garlic we do a little accent,” Smith said. And the cornbread dressing is from scratch, with turkey juice, peppers and onions added.
But her favorite is the mac and cheese, which she says they do the right way, not from a blue box. She lifted up its container lid to reveal the cheesy elbows with a crunchy crust on top.
“The guys strive to do the best,” she said.
Smith said her culinary background is self-taught and learned from her mother. But she said she loves it, as do the students in the recovery program.
“The only way to have good food, you have to love cooking,” she said. “If you don’t love cooking you’re not going to put the best out for anybody.”
About 200 volunteers showed up to help serve the meal. The shelter goes through about 150 donated turkeys between Thanksgiving and Christmas meals.
Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at email@example.com, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.