One of the best ways to celebrate Thanksgiving has always been, well, to give thanks. Chef Deon Thomas, who has a fairly famous kitchen inside the VFW in Oak Bluffs, has taken the November holiday a step further and in his attempt to give back, has fed roasted (and fried and barbecue and jerk) turkey to Islanders for free since 2012.
While other communities might have turkey giveaways and food drives, Chef Deon’s kitchen spares no sauce. This year he served up turkey four ways, squash orchard stuffing with apple, collard greens, mac ‘n cheese, mashed potatoes, and — wait for it — pies from Morning Glory Farm. Special donations from Vineyard Grocer help out, as well as gleaned produce from Island Grown Initiative, along with others. It’s a dinner for the community, from the community.
Last year, the chef says, they served a little more than 500 meals, and this year he planned to make 50 turkeys. He’s got the preparations down to a science, and took a few minutes to talk to us between running around to pick everything up a couple of days before the big event.
“We’ll have volunteers tomorrow morning peeling and chopping and cutting,” he told us. “And we have volunteers who drive, because we have the sick and the shut-in too.”
In the past, they’ve had more than 30 volunteers help with the prep, cooking, and delivery. Sometimes volunteers bring the whole family. “Sheriff Ogden comes and brings his family,” Thomas said. “We have two lines going… one for sitting in and another for meals to go. We make a coconut pumpkin carrot soup that’s vegetarian, and with squash from IGI, and we turn that into the most beautiful soup. That always comes in handy, because it’s been chilly the last few years.”
Thomas’ own family often gets in on the festivities as well. His daughter is home from college to help out this year. “My son is actually in Spain, and he’s not home until December. He was on the phone and said it was the first time he’ll miss it,” the chef said.
He said once November comes up on the calendar, he begins “putting out feelers” about what he may be able to gather together as far as donations go. Because one person doesn’t have everything, Chef Deon said, it means he has to coordinate what he’s getting from where. It all seems to come together in the end.
Who comes to enjoy the gourmet turkey dinner? That’s a broad question. There are elders who might pick up dinner or choose to dine inside. A lot of times, Chef Deon said, workmen who are coming home from off-Island will call ahead when they’re on the ferry to see if there’s still turkey available.
“After 6:30 or 7, the workmen who’ve been out come… they’ll call you ‘I’m on the boat do you still have turkey?’ You just never know how many people will come. You can’t plan for it all — you cook and hope for the best. We’ve never had a year when we’ve had a lot of food leftover.”
And why does the chef commit to preparing 50 turkeys and hundreds of pounds of Thanksgiving dishes every year?
“What do I get from this?” Chef Deon repeated the question we asked. “The joy of the community. There is no cost…this is my giving back to the community. It’s all volunteers; the only people getting paid are the chefs in the kitchen.”
Sharon Brown is looking for a chef, hopefully with a facility available, who might be able donate their time and talent for a Christmas Day dinner for folks who may not have anyone to spend Christmas with. She’s been doing this for a few years now, and could use a hand. Email email@example.com or call her at 302-602-6829 if you can help.