Strongbow's Thanksgiving

2013-11-24T15:03:00Z Strongbow's ThanksgivingBy Christine Bryant Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
November 24, 2013 3:03 pm  • 

Imagine having to prepare 130 30-pound turkeys, 1,400 pounds of mashed potatoes and 450 pumpkin pies - all for guests who are about to walk through your front door.

While that sounds far-fetched - no matter how big your family is - it's a reality for Strongbow Inn in Valparaiso, one of several businesses and organizations making last-minute preparations for the flood of hungry patrons.

It's a job that takes a ton of preparation - and coffee, considering there will be many early mornings and late nights this week for those preparing the annual feast.

"I'm always excited about it each year," said David Hemdal, executive chef at Strongbow. "I love planning, and it's a lot to plan, but a lot of fun for me."

While Strongbow Inn is anticipating 3,000 to walk through their doors this Thanksgiving, another local business has already begun prepping for those who want to have Thanksgiving dinner at their homes - but without the chore of cooking it.

Several grocery stores and catering companies, including Strack & Van Til, offer take-home dinners that are available for pickup Wednesday. All customers need to do is heat up the meals and dinner is served.

"A lot of people are buying these now so they can spend more time with family and less time in the kitchen," said Larry Malchick, director of deli, seafood and catering at Strack & Van Til Supermarkets.

Last year, the grocery chain served more than 2,000 dinners, up 400 from the year before.

"Because we have several new stores, I expect that number to be higher this year," he said.

For a store like Schererville's that sold 284 dinners last year, it can be a demanding couple of days for employees in the deli department.

"The night before, we use every oven in the store, including the bakery," Malchick said. "Holidays in the Strack & Van Til deli are crazy."

Putting Thanksgiving meals on the dinner table is also challenging for some nonprofit organizations in the region, but for different reasons.

Capt. Rebecca Simmons, the Salvation Army Lake County coordinator, said the charity saw a 25-percent increase in the number of meals it served at its East Chicago soup kitchen from 2012 to 2013. On average, volunteers have served 90 people a day, and because of the rise in needed assistance, she anticipates serving 500 people this Tuesday when the organization holds its annual Thanksgiving meal.

"People are just scraping bottom and they don't have the resources they once had," Simmons said. "Thanksgiving is a time when you want to celebrate, but that's hard for many families."

With the help of donors who have given food, their time to cook and their assistance in setting up for the event, volunteers will serve about 50 turkeys and all the fixings to the needy this Thanksgiving - people that include the homeless, elderly who are on fixed incomes and low-income families, Simmons said.

Another 100 to 200 will be served at the annual Thanksgiving meal at the Salvation Army Porter County Corps building in South Haven on Thursday, Major Jon Welch said.

The Rev. Dena Holland-Neal, associate pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ in Gary, said her job these past few weeks has heavily involved the coordination of 550 baskets she and her congregation put together for needy residents in Gary.

The baskets - filled with a turkey and all the staples of a traditional dinner - will go out the week of Thanksgiving, with volunteers working tirelessly this weekend to assemble them.

"We've been doing the baskets each year, and each year we've increased the numbers," Holland-Neal said. "Last year, we did 350 baskets. This year we had the goal of 500, and have really taken on 550 baskets. This has been a larger job than anticipated."

The church is still accepting food donations, which can be dropped off at 1276 W. 20th Ave., Gary.

Back at the Strongbow Inn, Hemdal said he expects his day on Thursday to begin at 4 a.m.

"We load the turkeys at 11 p.m. in the ovens and they cook over night, then we get there and pull those out of the oven and reload," he said. "You have to keep a rhythm. You can't miss a round or you won't make it."

For more information on the Trinity United Church of Christ's Thanksgiving project, call (219) 944-0500. The Salvation Army is in need of food for its food pantries as well. To for more information, go to salarmychicago.org.

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