ATLANTIC CITY — Silver racks filled with dozens of cooked turkeys lined the floor of a kitchen inside the Atlantic City Convention Center as scores of volunteers in aprons scurried around slicing ham and stirring vats of broth.
It’s two days before Thanksgiving, and casino chefs from across the city have teamed up to prep more than 2,500 meals for hundreds of the city’s homeless and needy for the fifth year in a row.
For Chef George Fisher, the event is personal. Five years ago, he toured the Atlantic City Rescue Mission shelter on Bacharach Boulevard and saw up close the need to feed.
“It opens up your eyes to how lucky you are when you see 100 people sleeping in bunk beds in one big room,” said Fisher, executive chef for Spectra, which provides food services to the convention center.
The three-day, $7,500 cooking frenzy began bright and early Friday.
Local businesses shipped in 270 birds, 400 pounds of stuffing and vegetables, and 60 gallons of gravy to a loading dock outside a parking deck. Turkeys were draped on racks over the weekend to thaw and then popped into ovens Monday to cook.
Inside a walk-in freezer, trays of salad, sweet potatoes and turkey were being kept fresh Tuesday before nearby homeless shelters and local organizations come through to pick up the meals.
Professional chefs field questions and guide more than 50 volunteers, most of whom aren’t acquainted with the ins and outs of a busy kitchen.
“It’s kind of hectic,” Fisher said. “I’m bombarded with questions, so that’s stressful. ... But it’s worth it in the end.”
In the back of the kitchen, 51-year-old Sherry Massaro scrubbed grime and leftover food off dozens of pots and pans, scrambling to keep up with the volume of dirty dishes.
A table game dealer at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, Massaro and her co-worker Teri Bastian arrived at the convention center at 9 a.m. to volunteer on their day off.
“I have a newfound respect for food service workers because now I know what they do behind the scenes,” said Bastian, of Sweetwater in Mullica Township.
At the head of a three-person assembly line, Pam Green, executive chef at the Sheraton Atlantic City Convention Center Hotel, carved turkey meat after arriving around noon.
Collaboration among the local chefs, she said, is one of her favorite aspects of the event. Five years ago, Fisher started a Facebook page to connect Atlantic City chefs for community projects.
“This is how Atlantic City changes. As chefs, we take very personally that there are people going hungry in our community,” Green said. “We want to take care of them.”
Among the groups receiving meals are Sister Jean’s Kitchen, the Atlantic City Rescue Mission, Covenant House and the Salvation Army.