Culinary students help Salvation Army of Orlando serve Thanksgiving meal to thousands

Chefs, students, volunteers ready to serve more than 8,200 meals

ORLANDO, Fla. – The countdown to the annual Salvation Army Thanksgiving Day meal in Orlando began with culinary students, faculty and staff making more than 8,200 traditional meals for Orange County’s less fortunate populations.

It’s the first time preparing the meal for master chef Alex Erdmann, the dean of Valencia College School of Culinary Arts and Hospitality who is leading the team of students and chefs to make it a memorable day.

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“It’s just an amazing idea and really a cool project something that we really wanted to do,” he said. “It’s really good for us to get students involved in community services.”

The day before the event, student volunteers, faculty staff and some of their family members arrived at the downtown facility to package about 8,400 sugar cookies that will be part of the Thanksgiving meal.

And that’s only one of six labs cooking up holiday meals. On Thanksgiving Day, News 6 saw students and professors alike preparing dishes on three floors.

“The students here, to be in this operation, immersed, is something that’s hard to teach because we’re cooking such a large quantity,” Erdmann said. “This is something that’s a great experience. You learn speed, you get skills, quantity cooking and you get really good in organizing something like that.”

Captain Ken Chapman, area commander for the Salvation Army, added he’s grateful for the help because the Salvation Army couldn’t do it alone.

“That group of college students and professors and the chefs have a great heart for the community, and we’re grateful to CJ and Dave Harris who provided the funding for all of Thanksgiving, so Orlando can have a great Thanksgiving,” said Captain Ken Chapman, area commander for the Salvation Army. “This relationship with Valencia College culinary arts program is just absolutely amazing, making this a great day. We’re only two blocks away, so the food preparation and the convenience—it’s all made in heaven.”

The Salvation Army will serve up bread rolls, turkey breast, gravy, potatoes, green beans and cranberry sauce with the help of Valencia College culinary students. (Copyright 2022 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

He said collaborating with great partners, like the college’s culinary arts program, is key to letting people know they’re not alone on the holidays.

“We welcome them to sit at our table today and we’ll hug them, we’ll pray with them, we’ll talk with them, we’ll let them talk and let them know they are not alone, that somebody cares and that’s what the holiday should be all about,” Chapman said.

Violetta Gir, one of the culinary arts students working to provide meals this Thanksgiving, echoed that sentiment, grateful for the opportunity and learning experience the Orlando organization has provided her and her classmates.

“Seeing the Salvation Army go out of their way, as well with the volunteers, it says a lot,” Gir said. “It shows that even though we’re outcasts, to a certain extent, we’re not forgotten... At times I feel like an outcast, today I feel like I’m with family and that means a lot.”

Boxes of bread rolls were served along with 2,000 pounds of turkey breast, 120 gallons of gravy, 2,000 pounds of potatoes, 1,500 pounds of green beans and 1,500 pounds of cranberry sauce.

“The first delivery is gonna be at 9:30, at 10:30 is the second delivery and then every 45 minutes we’re going to produce about 2,000 meals,” Erdmann said.

Chapman said this is the only way he knows Thanksgiving Day as someone who grew up in the Salvation Army.

“But here in Orlando, it’s on steroids ‘cause by the end of the day, it’ll be 20,000 meals this week and so when I lay my head down today, I’ll be able to say, ‘Great people came together to make this happen so people in this community know that we care,’” he said.

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About the Author:

Carolina Cardona highlights all Central Florida has to offer in her stories on News 6 at Nine. She joined News 6 in June 2018 from the Telemundo station in Philadelphia.