Inside Rock Hill’s Applied Technology Center culinary arts building, the first thing a visitor notices is the smell.
It is November. The smell is unmistakable: Roast turkey.
Turkeys, plural. A gaggle of turkeys. As of Wednesday, 92 roast turkeys. By Thanksgiving, 150 roast turkeys.
But better than any smell is the reason that so many turkeys are being cooked, so many pounds of dressing and more prepared. All the food is going to be delivered to York County residents in need on Thanksgiving Day – and the students are doing all the work.
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“This is the best way that we can give back to our community, to those people out there who might not have a Thanksgiving,” said Ajsonta Goodwin, a 16-year-old senior.
The center is the Rock Hill school district’s career and technical school that teaches students from all three Rock Hill high schools. For many of its students, the upcoming holiday has become not just a cooking class, but a lesson of how to give back.
Culinary Arts teacher Suzanne Young was asked by the Rev. Ronal King, who runs Feed The Hungry Ministries, for help with cooking turkeys this year.
“This kind of community service, the lesson of helping others, can’t be taught in a book,” Young said. “The students have taken this on and gone even farther than we ever thought. It has become their project.”
Turkeys are cooked each day and frozen for later carving. Vats of stock are made for gravy, all the sides are done by hand, and the students incorporate cooking methods, math, and the ingredient that cannot be measured but is what makes any holiday meal special: love.
“Passion is the key in every recipe,” Young said.
King, who has been serving the hungry and needy, the broke and broken for 40 years in Rock Hill, and has talked about it every one of those days, almost was at a loss for words in describing the grace of the students.
“These young people, what they are doing is straight out of the goodness of their hearts,” King said. “We would be lost this year without them. I look at them, I see our future.”
The students, these high schoolers who likely will end up as cooks and chefs one day, have embraced the project with such vigor that some even stay late after school to make sure all the work is done.
Maddy Plaxco, 17, said simply and so beautifully, while lifting a roast turkey, “This is what Thanksgiving is all about.”
The students even baked and delivered goodies Wednesday on a short field trip to visit some of the people who will be served next week. The bus trip was hatched for the students to see the need out in the community.
And the need is great and huge. The students learned that as many as 3,000 people in York County that Feed the Hungry knows of will not, without donations, have a holiday meal. The goal is for a squadron of volunteers, including the students, to cook and serve 2,000 turkeys by next week.
“But we don’t have the money right now to buy the turkeys,” King said. “Time is running short.”
These students have jumped right into the vats of gravy to fill part of that need. The daily class lasts two hours, and no time is wasted. Turkeys have to be cleaned, and cooked. Other students, including football players from the high schools who have volunteered, will help strip the meat.
“If we can make a difference with what we do here, help people, that’s the real idea of Thanksgiving,” said Ebone Bolder, 17, a junior at the Applied Technology Center.
Young and her students are not only cooking so much food – the class volunteered to work Thanksgiving Day for delivery and service.
Chelsea Bledsoe, 17 and a senior, up to her elbows in turkey stock, may have said it best Wednesday: “If we don’t help people on Thanksgiving when we are supposed to be thankful for all we have, who will?”