ATLANTIC CITY — Bins stuffed with turkey legs, 200 pounds of sliced turkey breast, 150 pounds of smoked ham and enough gravy to overflow a 55-gallon drum.
The Atlantic City Convention Center’s kitchen was a conveyor belt of Thanksgiving on Tuesday as volunteers prepared meals to be served at the Atlantic City Rescue Mission across the street.
Mission Chef Tyrone Halloway is expecting as many as 1,000 people this year — more than last Thanksgiving — as the region’s economic struggles mount.
“Families, a lot of people who aren’t homeless but just have enough money to pay their bills,” he said. “They get their paycheck and pay to keep the lights on.”
The massive scale turkey dinner is part of a large, coordinated volunteer effort of donated time, food and commercial kitchen equipment.
Global Spectrum and Ovations Food Services, which provides food and drink for the Convention Center and Boardwalk Hall, was preparing the massive meal in the huge commercial kitchen.
Ovation’s Executive Chef George Fisher hoisted a tray of three cooked turkeys onto a cutting board, where he carved them with a speed not seen in any household kitchen.
“You get really good at it after a couple thousand,” said volunteer Greg Farquharson, chef at the Waterfront Buffet at Harrah’s Atlantic City.
The meal includes 150 pounds of mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes and mounds of homemade cranberry sauce.
The pan drippings and the turkey carcasses were being made into a stock for about 60 gallons of gravy.
David Eichmann, 40, who lives at the rescue mission, was helping to pick turkey meat off the bone.
“We wanted to help. I’m one of the residents at the mission. I’m part of it. I know what it’s like to struggle,” he said.
Those working to prepare the traditional meals here knew Thanksgiving could be a rough one this year as thousands more are jobless from four Atlantic City casino closings in the past year.
“A lot of my friends were laid off. I know how it feels,” Fisher said. “You’ve got to bounce back, but it’s hard to bounce back when there are no jobs.”
Thanksgiving dinner at the mission starts at 1 p.m. and runs to 6 p.m., Halloway said.
And despite the struggles in the area, there are plenty of reasons to be thankful, he said.
“We’re grateful because we’re one of the countries that actually feeds you if you can’t do so for yourself,” he said. “I look at the brighter side of it, the silver lining.”
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