Record file A long line of volunteers packages dinners for those who otherwise wouldn’t eat Thanksgiving.

Mobile Turkey Unit volunteers prepare for record serving year

At the end of the day, the Mobile Turkey Unit just wants to make sure everyone from Clinton to Coupeville is able to enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner.

Even if it means peeling 400 pounds of potatoes, packaging more than 500 dinners and anticipating the largest number of orders to date, the organization does what it can to make it happen.

The Mobile Turkey Unit is serving South and Central Whidbey for the 18th year running. The all-volunteer organization annually seems to churn out a larger amount of turkey and other holiday bites than the previous year, and 2016 is no different with organizers anticipating a record 550 orders, perhaps even more. More than 470 dinners were delivered last year, and volunteers shrug at the thought of a new record.

“We believe nobody on this island should go hungry,” said Gwendine Norton, the organization’s meal coordinator. “It looks like we’ll go over the amount we’ve ever served this year, and that’s fine with us.”

The Mobile Turkey Unit steps in to provide meals for those who would otherwise not be able to enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner. The organization prepares mind-boggling amounts of food for low-income families, the homeless, the elderly, those who work throughout Thanksgiving day and even those who will spend Thanksgiving alone who don’t want to prepare large amounts of food.

Their reach extends to organizations that serve at-risk communities such as Helping Hand and Ryan’s House. On Thanksgiving day, the Mobile Turkey Unit fills the void left behind from Meals on Wheels, which is closed on the holiday.

“Our founding father, Tom Arhontas, thought everyone deserves a Thanksgiving meal,” organization president Art Taylor said. “If somebody is living in a car, we meet them. We specialize our staff to make sure people are fed.”

An anticipated record number of orders requires a massive volunteer team. Taylor said roughly 175 or more volunteers are expected to come out to put the meals together — about 50 making deliveries, a handful of chefs organizing people and plumes of people basting turkeys, peeling potatoes, packaging pies and making cranberry sauce. Dave Johnson and Tom Norton are leading this year’s cooking team.

The food prep begins on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and wraps up the day before. Swarms of volunteers come together at 7:30 a.m. at St Hubert’s on Thanksgiving morning, and somehow manage to package all the food, properly label, ship out the food and leave without a trace by 9:30 a.m.

“While there’s a small group that gets things going, on Thanksgiving morning it’s a huge huge portion of our community that comes out to deliver the meals or serve the portions,” Norton said. “When you stand there that morning and look around to see how many community members help us do this, it’s one of those goose bump moments.”

The online form to request a holiday meal is open until 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 17. Requests can be made to Gwendine Norton at (360) 321-9782. The form can be found at https://mobileturkeyunit.wordpress.com/.

Those interested in joining the volunteer team can contact Rindy Stewart at (360) 321-2553 or rindy@whidbey.com.

Record file A long line of volunteers packages dinners for those who otherwise wouldn’t eat Thanksgiving.

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