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WYSO is traveling the Miami Valley to find out how people mark the big moments in life. We’ll be covering the origins and histories of holidays, as well as the unique ways they’re celebrated in our region. If there’s a celebration you think we should cover, please let us know!

Miami Valley Celebrates: The Thanksgiving Turkey Takeaway

J. Reynolds
Just a few of the twelve thousand free turkey dinners being made at Miami Valley Meals.

The Thanksgiving Turkey Takeaway is this Wednesday, and Miami Valley Meals will be giving away 12,000 turkey dinners for families in need. WYSO stopped by their kitchen to see how they prepare so much food and where they'll be distributing it.

Julisa Candelaria was whisking gravy in front of an industrial stove.

“Throughout the day, I'm going to be making mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and stuffing," she said, "and we’re going to be portioning out some turkey."

She said they’ll make close to 2,000 meals during her shift, and that’s just one day of work. By Wednesday, Miami Valley Meals will have made six times that amount to distribute for free.

It takes a lot of employees and volunteers.

“I love seeing all of the groups that have come in to help out with Thanksgiving,” Candelaria said. “They get a little competitive with each other, and they're like, ‘No, I want to make more meals than the people did last week!'”

J. Reynolds
Julisa Candelaria recently moved to Dayton from Indiana. She cooks at Miami Valley Meals and waits tables at Sueno.

Candelaria said that enthusiasm helps them get thousands of meals made, but it can also lead to bottlenecks. Space is a serious issue when you’re making 12,000 dinners, and putting food in the walk-in coolers and freezers can be a challenge.

“It's us playing Tetris and being like, ‘Okay, I think we can put this here, but if I put that there, I'm not going to be able to get to this.’ So, you know, we're doing our best!”

A few feet from Candelaria, Patricio Andrade is chopping bread for stuffing, and he’s doing it with impressive speed.

Everyone who works in the kitchen calls Andrade “Papi”. He was a chef at the Dayton Racquet Club for 17 years, then the pandemic hit and he lost his job.

“They shut down three, maybe four years ago,” he said. “No thank you, no nothing.”

That’s when he joined Miami Valley Meals, which was just being launched with a team of service industry employees who were also being furloughed because of the pandemic.

“They are my family,” Andrade said. “All of them are like brothers and sisters. I'm so proud to do what I do with my heart and feed hungry people. I never knew there were so many hungry people.”

J. Reynolds
Patricio Andrade—AKA "Chef Papi"— brings decades of kitchen experience to Miami Valley Meals.

Amanda Delotelle, the Executive Director of Miami Valley Meals, said the organization started about as grassroots as it gets.

“We didn't have a kitchen at first. We were kind of nomadic, cooking out of different kitchens, and we didn't have the food at first,” she said. “So the Food Bank stepped up and said, ‘We will give you all the food you need, just keep making meals!’ And that's what we did.”

Now, they have a building and they’re making roughly 4,000 meals a week, but their methods and mission haven’t changed.

“We still have the same model where we take in donated and rescued food, and we elevate those ingredients into hearty meals that are then distributed through nonprofit partners,” Delotelle said.

J. Reynolds
Executive Director Amanda Delotelle works the line with employees and volunteers.

Miami Valley Meals works with over 40 different nonprofits—churches, community centers, and other organizations. Once the meals are ready, Nick Testa helps coordinate distribution.

“I'm the liaison between the partners and Miami Valley Meals,” he said. “So really, I just lift heavy stuff all day and talk to people.”

When partners pull up outside, he takes the bread racks full of food from a walk-in and slides them out a window and down a conveyor to the vehicles waiting in the parking lot.

J. Reynolds
Nick Testa preps meals for distributors.

“One of our distributors for the Thanksgiving drive is picking up 900 portions,” he said, pointing at head-high stacks of meals in the cooler. “And that’s just one of five places that will be picking up.”

Testa will be moving thousands of pounds of food today, but he wouldn’t want it any other way.

“I've had lots of different jobs, and this is the most fulfilling,” he said. “I know that we are doing something that's helping people, and that makes me feel good. It's not a selfless thing. I'm really happy to be helping people. It makes me feel good.”

The Thanksgiving Turkey Takeaway is sponsored by The Feast of Giving Fund, which, before COVID, held a community meal for thousands in person at the Convention Center. It was one of the largest Thanksgiving parties in the nation, and they hope to host another soon.

For this year’s Turkey Takeaway, Miami Valley Meals will also have desserts from Dayton Cooks, and they’re working with many area nonprofits to make sure all the food gets to people who need it.

Here’s a full list of places and times for the 2023 Thanksgiving Turkey Takeaway:

Miami Valley Meals

Miami Valley Celebrates is produced at The Eichelberger Center For Community Voices At WYSO. If there’s a celebration you think we should cover next, please let us know.