Nation’s Biggest Charity Thanksgiving Dinner Gets Bigger

Orlando’s Helpings From The Heart to feed 15,000 people in need this year
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Making the annual Thanksgiving meal is a big task. But imagine if the meal had to serve 15,000 people, and consisted of 4,000 pounds of turkey, 3,000 pounds of ham, 800 gallons of gravy, plus all the fixings. This is the meal Jason Gronlund, VP of Culinary at Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill, will be preparing along with an army of volunteers for the annual Helpings From The Heart Thanksgiving Feast in Orlando, Florida. Fortunately, Gronlund has experience in serving up thousands of meals on Thanksgiving, with this being his 18th year making the meal for the Salvation Army.

The first meals will be served at the Salvation Army’s Colonial Road location on Thanksgiving Day at 11:00 a.m. But the preparation begins days before, starting on Monday, and the carving of the turkeys takes place on Wednesday. Then it all comes together in a mad dash on Thursday morning, when more than 1,000 Salvation Army volunteers, plus staff from area Smokey Bones and other organizations, package meals. Along with the food served at the Colonial Road location, thousands of meals are also distributed to community members who are homebound or otherwise unable to attend the feast.

For Gronlund, feeding so many people at one time is a culinary masterpiece, orchestrated with exacting efficiency. “Every year that I do this, I find new ways to be better organized in preparing the meals,” said Gronlund. “I now have it down to a science. And while it’s a ton of work, it’s worth it, knowing that we are helping so many people in Orange County.”

Gronlund began volunteering his culinary services with the second annual Helpings from the Heart Thanksgiving Feast. Eric Holm, president and CEO of Metro Corral Partners, took the chef up on his offer to assist in the massive undertaking. It has grown to become a collaboration supported by numerous nonprofit organizations, corporations, small businesses, and government agencies. This year, Gronlund has even enlisted the staff at Smokey Bones and his new boss, Smokey Bones President & CEO Chris Artinian, to come out and help.

“Jason really has a big heart,” said Artinian. “When we hired him, it was because we were impressed with his fresh culinary approach. We didn’t know that we also hired a man who is always thinking of ways to help those in need, whether it’s through his work with the Salvation Army, the American Cancer Society, the Gilroy Garlic Festival, or other nonprofit organizations.”

Smokey Bones is a full-service bar and fire-grill restaurant that operates 65 locations in 17 states and employs nearly 4,000 people. It is owned by an affiliate of Boca Raton, Fla.-based Sun Capital Partners, whose portfolio of restaurants also includes Boston Market, Friendly’s, Sweet Tomatoes, Fazoli’s, Bar Louie, and other restaurant brands representing approximately 2,000 locations and over $2.0 billion in sales. For more information on Smokey Bones, visit SmokeyBones.com.