Plan for 75,000 Turkey Day meals: 300 birds on grill every 4-6 hours


Lucia and Andres Escobar scooped turkey meat into a to-go box in a field on Northlake Boulevard on Monday night, surrounded by a legion of volunteers preparing 75,000 Thanksgiving meals.

The Escobars’ two young children worked alongside them and will accompany them Thursday morning when they help deliver the meals to families in Belle Glade and Pahokee.

“It’s really heart-warming when your little one realizes the food they packed, you’re offering to people in need,” Lucia Escobar said.

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This is their third or fourth year participating in the mammoth undertaking by the Big Heart Brigade that easily brings 5,000 people to the vacant land behind Palm Beach Gardens’ Fire Station 63 every year.

“It’s better as a family,” Andres Escobar said.

Volunteers start cooking turkeys on enormous grills this week and package Thanksgiving meals with all the fixings — including homemade pumpkin bread for dessert — until 9 p.m. every night until Thursday.

While manpower is usually plentiful, this is at least the second year in a row the Big Heart Brigade is short on cash. The organization has a $24,000 shortfall to pay for the meals it is committed to making.

A turkey shortage caused by the bird flu was responsible for last year’s $25,000 deficit, organizers said at the time. This year, it’s part of the ebb and flow of donations.

Donations from local businesses keep the cost of producing the meals to roughly $2 each. Feeding 75,000 people, though, requires close to 2,000 turkeys that each weigh 22 to 24 pounds, Big Heart Brigade Vice President Bryon Scholz said.

The grills cook 300 birds every four to six hours, Scholz said. Volunteers on Monday evening were plucking the meat from the birds in the “turkey tent,” which had a party-like atmosphere as the “Cha-Cha Slide” and “Hakuna Matata” played from speakers.

A young woman walked around the tent with a megaphone to boost morale.

Julio Rivera, of West Palm Beach, said the turkey plucking was a “gross” task, but he was willing to stick with it. He’d been wanting to help prepare Thanksgiving meals for awhile.

“It’s the time of year for giving, so we can get over the turkey,” he said.

Paul Greasley, of Palm Beach Gardens, arrived at dawn to put the turkeys on the grill in his first year of volunteering and has become a turkey plucker in the two years since then. It’s the sense of community and the need that keeps him coming back, he said.

“It’s always a surprise to me in this affluent county we live in the needs people have,” Greasley said. “You don’t have to look far.”

To donate, go to https://squareup.com/store/big-heart-brigade.



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