Simon Pressley got into work at 5 a.m. on Wednesday, and if everything went as he expected he’d be out by 10 p.m.
“But I’ll be here as long as it takes. We have to have everything ready,” said Pressley on Wednesday afternoon.
Pressley, chef and kitchen manager at Providence Ministries, and the rest of the ministry’s staff have been working round the clock for the past month preparing for today’s Thanksgiving meal for the community. Pressley said he’s cooked 135 turkeys and dozens of pounds of candied yams, green beans, dressing and other holiday favorites.
“It’s going to be a full meal with drinks and desserts and everything,” he said.
Roy Johnson, founder and president of Providence, said the ministry served about 800 meals last Thanksgiving.
“But some years it has been close to a thousand. We never know how many to expect, but we’ll be ready,” he said.
Much of the food is donated but the ministry also has to buy quite a bit. One wall of the dining area is covered with the names of those who donate to the effort.
And while Providence is known for its big Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, it also operates biblically-based addiction centers, homeless shelters and a community kitchen that provides three meals a day 365 days a year. Johnson said lately it has been serving a total of about 500 meals a day.
Pressley said if that is any indication the crowd that shows up today will be quite large.
“I used to know the names of everyone we fed, but lately we’ve had a lot of people coming in that I don’t recognize,” he said. “It’s families with little kids, sometimes three or four of them. I don’t think most people realize the need in this community.”
Johnson said they hope to start serving around 11:30 a.m. and will probably serve until the early afternoon.
Dozens of volunteers will arrive around 10 a.m. to help get everything ready.
“They help us put to-go boxes together, serve meals, put drinks out on the table, put out desserts, greet people,” Johnson said.
David and Anne Blaylock have been volunteering at Providence during the holidays for several years.
“We have children who live out of town, so when we are in town for Christmas and Thanksgiving we try to spend some time with Roy and the folks down there,” David said. “Everybody who has reasonable expectations of a good life needs to share that. It’s rewarding to see all the smiles, especially on the kids’ faces.”
Providence has been serving Thanksgiving meals for over 20 years. Johnson said he’s not sure exactly how long
“The biggest thing we have learned is how to speed the process up. We used to have everyone come in and get in a line like a cafeteria. That takes forever. Now, we have them come in and be seated, and volunteers bring out the plates and the drinks and everything,” he said.
And as soon as the final meal is served today, the staff at Providence will begin preparing to serve its annual Christmas meal.
“We have already started planning for it,” Pressley said.
Providence Ministries will prepare to-go boxes of its Thanksgiving meal. Officials suggest calling (706) 275-0268 no later than noon today to have one prepared. Founder and President Roy Johnson said there may not be enough people to deliver them, so those who ask for them should be prepared to come get them. Providence is at 711 S. Hamilton St. in Dalton.