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Gourmet cooked turkeys help homeless diners 'feel important'

Head Chef David Deloach, right, works with Miriam

Head Chef David Deloach, right, works with Miriam Nague in the kitchen of the Project Renewal's Third Street Mens Shelter in the East Village to prepare turkeys on Nov. 26, 2014 for the Thanksgiving meal. Credit: Linda Rosier

Chef David Deloach carefully seasons and trims each turkey by hand, cooking Thanksgiving meals for a holiday feast.

His philosophy: Lovingly preparing a meal "makes a person feel important and that they actually count."

Deloach spent the week brining, seasoning and trimming fresh turkeys for Thanksgiving -- 3,300 pounds that will feed hundreds of the city's homeless residents.

"It means a lot to a person that a meal was not just thrown together," said Deloach, who this week was chopping his turkeys in half to roast them with thyme and rosemary, which he delicately places between the skin and breast meat.

"Nothing here comes from a can," Deloach said, smiling as he brought his cleaver down into the center of his turkey. "It's all fresh and folks through word-of-mouth know that here is where they can get a great meal."

Deloach, is one of 32 employees at Comfort Foods, a catering company managed by the nonprofit feeding program, Project Renewal, which serves hundreds of meals daily to the homeless, senior citizens and mentally ill.

Project Renewal in Manhattan's Lower East Side, trains its employees through a nine-month culinary program. The nonprofit prepares daily breakfasts, lunches and dinners for 18 shelters across the city. Its employees once were homeless.

Floor manager Derick Lewis of Queens ensures "that everybody gets to eat and makes sure that the food tastes good." He graduated from the group's training program and has worked with Project Renewal since 2009, when he was released from prison after serving 22 years for homicide.

While in prison, Lewis received his GED and an associate's degree in drug and alcohol counseling. But food has always been his calling. "I worked 18 years in the prison kitchen and this job is my lottery," he said.

"I wake up every morning feeling blessed," Lewis added. "I did a lot of wrong, but now I feel as if I am giving back, relieving the pain I caused my family and others who I didn't even know."

Director Barbara Hughes said she expects to serve 3,100 Thanksgiving meals, which will include the turkey, cornbread stuffing and cranberry sauce. The cost for all 240 turkeys was $8,700.

"We used to get a ton of turkeys but we don't get those donations anymore," said Hughes, who has been at Project Renewal since 1992.

"The need is greater," she said, adding one of her own full-time employees relies on food pantries to get by.

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