Wednesday, October 24, 2018


Reynolds Chefs & Culinary Students
Lend their Hearts, their Hands, and their Education

What does it take to fix Thanksgiving dinner for Metropolitan Richmond? Lots of giving hearts, lots of working hands, and a massive amount of planning.

On November 22 The Giving Heart will host its 13th Annual Community Thanksgiving Feast at the Richmond Convention Center. This year, Reynolds Community College Chefs Jesse Miller, Darren Rounds, Jeff Baird, and Jonathan Highfield, and their team of talented culinary students will lend their food preparation skills to the battalion of volunteers who make this event possible. While many of us are gathering with family and friends, the Chefs and students will be gathering to “fabricate” 200 turkeys and make gravy to feed almost 3,000 Richmonders.

When Bess Littlefield, executive director of the Educational Foundation, and Vicki Neilson, founding and executive director of The Giving Heart, approached Chef Jesse about this opportunity to involve the culinary students, he didn’t hesitate to say “yes.” Even a simple meal requires preparation. But, preparation for a Thanksgiving meal for thousands? Now that’s a perfect organizational and service-learning experience for students about to graduate from Reynolds and move on to the frenzy of commercial kitchens.

Here’s the plan: On the Thursday before Thanksgiving the turkeys are to be delivered to the Reynolds Downtown Campus where they will be met by students and moved to the 6th floor kitchen. “Fabrication” starts Friday morning. Chef Jesse explains, “We fabricate the turkeys by removing the bones to reduce oven space and shorten cooking time. This ultimately saves the volunteers’ carving time. On Monday, we make the gravy with the bones and trimmings. Everything has to be ready for loading early Tuesday morning when the refrigerated truck arrives.” 

From Reynolds, the turkeys get a short ride to the Convention Center where they are met by two shifts of ten volunteers who carve the turkeys from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Reynolds culinary team will also be whipping up a variety of desserts to be delivered Thanksgiving Day.

The day before Thanksgiving is reserved for final food preparation and set up. “Set up” isn’t just tables and chairs for dining. Other areas must be organized so guests can receive donated food bags, toiletries, clothing, shoes, haircuts, medical assistance, and nonprofit agency information. A stage is also assembled for instrumentalists, acoustic musicians, and singers and dancers to entertain guests during the meal service.

At 5 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning the line begins to form. Guests arrive on foot, by bicycle, by car and by bus using free roundtrip tickets issued by The Giving Heart Bus Ambassadors who ride the bus routes to show the way to the Convention Center. By 8 a.m. the atmosphere is electric. This is community. This is sharing. And, this is a true Holiday. Snacks are handed out at 8:30 a.m. to hold guests over until the main event, the Thanksgiving Feast, is served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Giving Heart has thought of everything to make Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving for the Richmond community.

Reynolds Community College, Chefs Jesse Miller, Darren Rounds, Jeff Baird, and Jonathan Highfield and the Culinary Arts students are all extremely proud to lend their hands, their hearts, and their education to support this amazing Richmond Thanksgiving tradition.

Update, Wednesday, November 7: Reynolds culinary staff has lent its expertise in logistics and purchasing to reduce food costs for The Giving Heart. The Reynolds team has also expanded their role to baking and cutting 160 pies and ferrying the massive amounts of food to the Convention Center. A call is going out to all Reynolds staff who can lend their hands and hearts to this event as well.

* * *

The Giving Heart serves a Thanksgiving Day Feast on Thursday, November 22, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information, visit The Giving Heart.

To donate items, sponsor a table or volunteer visit The Giving Heart Information page.

Photos: The Giving Heart