Listen to this article

CHAMPAIGN — You think you’ve got a long checklist for your Thanksgiving dinner? Try cooking 29 turkeys for a crowd of 300.

The good folks at Daily Bread Soup Kitchen know when to call for backup.

Four commercial chefs are pitching in to roast turkeys for Daily Bread’s annual Thanksgiving meal, which is being held today to catch guests who have other places to go on the holiday.

Daily Bread enlisted help preparing the birds from Michael's Catering, Hendrick House, Destihl restaurant and Holiday Inn in Champaign.

Chelsie Spivak, executive chef at Hendrick House, a private UI residence hall, agreed to cook six.

Hendrick House already donates its leftovers to the soup kitchen several times a week, so when a Daily Bread volunteer called to see if Spivak could help, she said, “Just sign us up.”

It’s good timing, as all but 50 of the residence hall’s students are gone for the week for fall break, Spivak said.

Daily Bread volunteer Susan Hinesly was in charge of recruiting the turkey chefs, and “she is very resourceful,” said Pam Hagle, secretary of the soup kitchen’s board.

Holiday Inn agreed to prepare five turkeys, said Manager Vicki Dunn.

“It was a new one for us,” she said.

Spivak is an old pro, having just prepared a Thanksgiving dinner for about 250 Hendrick House residents last week.

“We have big ovens,” said Spivak, a Fairbury native who attended culinary school in Chicago.

Her secret? “Low temperatures, and don’t be in a rush. Because turkeys will never turn out that way.” Also: use fresh rosemary, sage, thyme and garlic, and a little lemon or citrus.

“It just brings out all the nice flavors from the turkey,” she said.

Hagle said the Daily Bread holiday meal used to be held on Thanksgiving Day, but “we weren’t getting very many people.”

Buses don’t run on the holiday, and churches and other charities also host meals on Thanksgiving Day, said longtime volunteer Ellen Harms.

Plus, many of those who rely on the soup kitchen have families they can be with on holidays, Harms said.

“People tend to think that our guests are all homeless, but it’s really not true,” Harms said.

On an ordinary day, Daily Bread serves 200 to 300 people for lunch.

The Thanksgiving feast brings in an even bigger crowd, volunteers said.

There’s a lot more prep involved than for a usual lunch, with help from some big-time donations.

The turkeys are provided through Carle, which offers every employee the option of a turkey, ham or fruit basket that they can take home or donate to the soup kitchen, Harms said.

As for the rest of the menu: Piato’s catering is providing the mashed potatoes and stuffing, Texas Roadhouse is supplying rolls and butter, Amber Glen Alzheimer’s Special Care Center will donate pumpkin pies, and the Daily Bread crew is making green bean casserole, gravy and salad.

Volunteers and community members also pitch in to make the meal festive.

Holy Cross teacher Mary Tate comes in the morning of the feast to decorate with holiday placemats made by her students and candy for each table, Hagle said.

Other volunteers have contributed decorations, too, including a certain inflatable tabletop turkey that went missing for a year or so.

“We found him in the building next door, in a cupboard,” Hagle said. “We just weren’t looking in the right places.”

One woman typically sings grace for the meal, and over the years other guests have said prayers, Hagle said.

The event is “such a blessing,” said longtime Daily Bread patron Dan Denton. “That may be the only Thanksgiving Day dinner that many people get.”

He started coming to the soup kitchen 12 years ago when he was homeless. Now that he has a home and a car and “everything I need,” he brings other people to Daily Bread several times a week.

“So many people are without family, without a mother and father or sisters and brothers or kids,” he said. “They’re in this world alone. And when they come here, they have friends and people to talk to and people who care about them. People need that. Everyone needs that.”

Reporter/Columnist

Julie Wurth is a reporter covering the University of Illinois at The News-Gazette. Her email is jwurth@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@jawurth).