Union Station staff, volunteers mount massive Thanksgiving preparation effort

Pasadena Star News

By Nathan McIntire, Staff Writer
Pasadena Star News

PASADENA – For an event where 350 turkeys need to be cleaned, cooked and served, preparation is naturally critical.

Volunteers and staff at Union Station Homeless Services began the grueling grunt work Wednesday in preparation for Dinner in the Park, the nonprofit shelter and services provider’s annual massive Thanksgiving feeding that drew 6,500 people last year.

“It’s craziness,” said Marisa Albanese, Dinner in the Park’s director. “Today we’re doing everything and anything we need to do to get ready for tomorrow.”

Cooking 350 birds is no small task. It’s also one that can’t be handled at Union Station alone.

Organizers said about 20 organizations volunteered their turkey basting abilities, including Southern California Edison, which cooked 50, and a local school that was cooking 32 of the birds at a time.

That doesn’t include the fixings, of which there are literally tons.

Charles Bedell, Union Station’s director of food services, said today’s event will require about 1,100 pounds of mashed potatoes, 1,100 pounds of stuffing, 700 pounds each of green beans, corn, carrots and sweet potatoes, and 550 pounds of macaroni and cheese.

And none of those would be complete, of course, unless they were slathered in 130 gallons of gravy.

Bedell said he expects roughly the same turnout as last year, but officials are preparing enough food for about 7,000 people – just in case.

In the past, the Thanksgiving bounty was served buffet style, but Union Station organizers chose a table service approach this year to better utilize its huge, 1,500-person volunteer base. Volunteers will serve plates, then sit and interact with the diners.

Serving people provides “more of a community feel” to the event, Bedell said.

About 50 volunteers spent much of Wednesday unloading trucks, opening canned goods and counting thousands of plastic forks and knives.

Union Station staff and the most

Union Station’s volunteers, staff are making preparations to feed 5,000 people at Central Park Thanksgiving Day Wednesday November 25, 2009. Two hundred and fifty turkeys have been cooked for the yearly event. (SGVN/Staff Photo by Walt Mancini)dedicated volunteers began final food preparation at 4 a.m. this morning.

Emily Adams, who was volunteering at Union Station for the first time Wednesday, spent much of her day huddled with other volunteers sorting plastic ware in a small room – a task she admitted was far from exciting.

But it didn’t deter her.

“It’s the mundane tasks that have to happen for the whole thing to come together,” Adams said.

Edward Castillo, who has been homeless since February, was helping volunteers with other menial tasks Wednesday.

Castillo said he is living on the street while trying to stay sober and find full-time employment. He usually eats at Union Station twice a day and showers there. He said the shelter has been instrumental in getting his life back together.

“I couldn’t ask for more,” Castillo said.

nathan.mcintire@sgvn.com

(626) 578-6300, Ext. 4475

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