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Culinary students make holiday dinners for those in need

Thanksgiving meals with all the trimmings, prepared by Suffolk

Thanksgiving meals with all the trimmings, prepared by Suffolk County Community College student and faculty volunteers on Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018, will benefit Community Action Southold Town and go to Clinton Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church and Community Action Southold Town's food pantry, both in Greenport. The church is hosting a Thanksgiving dinner from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday. Credit: Barry Sloan

More than 200 pounds of turkey and 80 pounds of stuffing, 100 pounds of mashed potatoes, 5 gallons of gravy and 25 pounds of mixed vegetables.

All this, and more, went into some 200 Thanksgiving dinners that students and faculty in Suffolk County Community College’s Culinary Arts and Hospitality program prepared Wednesday for local residents in need.

“I come from a single-parent home, so I know what it is to struggle during the holidays,” said first-year culinary student and volunteer Kelly Smith, 38 of Westhampton. “I know a lot of people gave when my mom couldn’t, so this is me giving back.”

It also was a learning experience, said Smith, who helped carve the approximately 16 turkeys. The instructor taught them to slice the turkey differently than you would at home to “stretch the meat so that he made sure that everybody gets a piece,” she said. “It was a lot of turkey!”

The dinners were delivered to Greenport-based Community Action Southold Town’s food pantry and Clinton Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church. Community members had the option of eating a dinner hosted by the church Wednesday, or taking the meal home, organizers said.

“This is an event we all look forward to,” said Laureen Gauthier, director of the culinary program. “Our college’s decadelong celebration of cooking for Thanksgiving connects us to our neighbors in the communities around our campus.”

This is the 10th year of the program, and its second year working with Community Action Southold Town, a not-for-profit that helps low-income residents and serves as a safety net for families in the town, according to the college.

“Everybody is extremely grateful,” Community Action Southold Town executive director Cathy Demeroto said. Most of their clients on the North Fork are seasonal workers whose hours are typically reduced this time of year, she said. “They’re out of work, so to have the opportunity to have a home-cooked meal that the culinary students make, they’re just grateful.”

Some of the food was donated by local companies, including pies and dinner rolls, and the ingredients were purchased by Community Action Southold Town using donations, Demeroto said.

The school has been prepping for the event since Monday, said Chef Vinny Winn, a culinary instructor at SCCC. There’s also a lot of instruction on the day of, with some students from nursing, baking and dietetic also volunteering, Winn said.

And the volume of food can be a challenge “when you’re doing 200 pounds of turkey, 100 pounds of mashed potatoes, as opposed to two potatoes and making mashed potatoes,” he said.

SCCC staff and students began cooking early Wednesday morning and continued packaging into the afternoon.

Tess Wonderling, 34, of Riverhead, a first-year culinary student, signed up to help others, and also gets the extra credit. But the event took on a new meaning when she heard the meals were going to Community Action Southold Town.

When Wonderling, a single mother, moved to the Island with her son three years ago, she took advantage of the nonprofit’s services.

“They helped me immensely with clothing and food, and helping to fill out forms to get everything taken care of for my son and I,” she said. “They were great and they treated us like we were human.”

Wonderling said she is back on her feet, going for her associate degree in culinary arts — and on Wednesday was given the opportunity to do something for Community Action Southold Town.

“I’ve always wanted to give back to them somehow for everything that they did for us when we got here,” she said. “It feels good to give back.”

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