This was the fourth year of Operation Thanksgiving Turkey (OTT). The first year we smoked 40 turkeys to feed 40 needy families in our area and this year we smoked 300. We involved our community and church to gain a pool of volunteers.
This year we had two churches involved. The first was First Baptist Church of Fort Mill. They were gracious enough to let us use their huge parking lot to camp out overnight and smoke the turkeys as well as their kitchen to prep all the turkeys. We cooked 250 of the turkeys there. The second church was Tega Cay Baptist. They prepped and cooked 50 of the turkeys.
A few weeks before Thanksgiving we started to collect donations of $20 per turkey meal and names of volunteers to help prep, cook, clean and deliver the turkeys. A couple of the main volunteers work with local food pantries and other organizations to identify the families who are going to receive the meals. Another person lines up all the food and I was tasked with lining up the smokers to use.
Tuesday evening starts with a crew of people cutting the vegetables that we stuff the turkeys with and lining up the bags of groceries to be paired with a turkey to go to a family.
Chopping the veggies.
Groceries ready for turkeys.
The turkeys are brought from the grocery store and put into one of the large fridges. We then have a crew open, rinse, stuff and rub the birds. They are put back into the fridge until there is room for them on the cookers. With the six cookers, we were able to fit about 160 turkeys on at a time.
We cook the turkeys starting Tuesday night until the last turkey is done cooking Wednesday afternoon. This year was a rather interesting cook. We had eight cookers at our site and two of them we could not get to go above 150º so we were unable to use them. We were also hit with rain and wind which made it hard to keep some of the cookers up to temperature. We cook at about 275º and pull the turkeys off when the breast is 165º and the legs are 175º. The turkeys took about six hours to cook.
Starting the fires.
Loading the turkeys on.
The cook site.
Once the turkeys are done we run them back to the kitchen to be carved and put in the fridge until it is time for delivery. Families and couples deliver the turkeys and are able to share with the families that receive them. Some of the recipients from previous years have started to volunteer with OTT and pay it forward.
Turkeys on the cooker.
Checking the temperatures.
Ready to carve.
Thanks to all the volunteers who donated time and money to make it possible for 300 families to have a Happy Thanksgiving.
It amazes me how everything seems to come together at the last minute to pull off an operation like this.