Convention center staff, volunteers work long hours preparing annual Thanksgiving meal

Preparations for dinner begin long before breakfast time

SAN ANTONIO – With still days to go before Thanksgiving, turkey already was on the table inside the kitchen at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center.

Dozens of others were just beginning to get their turn in the ovens.

“We started Sunday to bring the turkeys in, semi-frozen,” said Executive chef Estella Castillo. “Then we wash them, clean them.”

Under Castillo’s guidance, staff and volunteers have been doing a lot of washing, season and roasting.

She has been overseeing the annual Raul Jimenez Thanksgiving dinner for more than a decade.

This year, the doors will open at 9:30 a.m. and an all-faith worship service will take place at 10 a.m. The dinner will start at 10:30 a.m. Those looking for home delivery can call (210)582-7004, but it’s only between the hours of 8 a.m. and 10 a.m.

Also on the menu are tons of trimmings--more than 6,200 pounds each of stuffing and greens beans, and more than 4,600 pounds each of cranberries and yams.

Convention center kitchen staff prepares turkeys for Thanksgiving meal. (KSAT 12 News)

The meal each year feeds the community’s hungry, including the homeless and elderly populations.

“All of us, all our cooks put a lot of love, a lot of time to make sure the food goes out good,” Castillo said.

In this kitchen, however, time seems to take a back seat to the tasks at hand.

Some of the staff and volunteers arrive long before the sun rises, then spend hours working in the kitchen.

Castillo said it’s not unusual for her to work 12 or 13 hour days, often beginning in the middle of the night.

She also said at this time of year, there is no such thing as too many cooks in the kitchen, that it’s “all hands on deck and all hands are welcome.”

Tenya Stroud happily offered up her hands to help, something she has been doing for years now.

“It gives you so much gratification. It makes you appreciate life, period,” she said.

Volunteer Tenya Stroud takes direction from staff member inside convention center kitchen. (KSAT 12 News)

Stroud usually spends her days working in a local school , assisting students who have disabilities.

While she is used to getting an early start to the day, working in the kitchen has her up even earlier.

“When you already have that motivation and stimulation to get up, you just do it,” Stroud said.

Both she and Castillo say they are looking forward to having some time to rest after all the preparations are done.

They have no plans, though, to spend time in the kitchen at home.

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