Salvation Army, Golden Corral serve up Thanksgiving meals for thousands

- For the twenty-fifth year in a row, volunteers prepared Thanksgiving Dinner for thousands of Orlando residents at the Salvation Army campus in West Colonial Drive. Through a partnership with Golden Corral, some 20,000 meals were served.   

Preparations began on Monday, and by the time guests arrived around 4:30 a.m. on Thursday, an outdoor kitchen with about a dozen ovens had been set up outside the gym, which served as a dining hall.

Eventually, “Oven Captain” Jon Cramer and his team would heat up an estimate 3,000 pounds each of turkey and ham.

“We don’t bother going inside. I don’t work with a knife. I’ll lose a digit or two. So we do everything outdoors,” said Cramer, who has been coming from Tampa to work the event for 23 years.

He said he and his wife look forward to seeing fellow volunteers.

“We only see them, some of them, once a year. But we’ve known them for the last 20 years,” Cramer said.

Nearby, an assembly line of volunteers prepared 3,500 pounds of green beans and sweet potatoes. Organizers expected to serve 5,000 pounds of mashed potatoes, 800 pounds of gravy and 400 pounds of cranberry sauce.

Eric Holm, the owner of 32 central Florida Golden Corrals, said that when he started the “Helpings from the Heart” program 25 years ago, he didn’t realize he’d created an event that would become a tradition for volunteers.

“But it’s sort of a cool thing,” he said. “End result is that we have an opportunity for everyone to give back in one place on Thanksgiving Day.”

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