For more than two decades, Cottonwood’s Georgie’s Cafe has invited the entire Verde Valley in for a free full-course Thanksgiving meal.
On Thursday, Nov. 23, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., every single member of Georgie’s staff will be on hand to serve the communities of the Verde Valley.
It’s the only day of the year other than Christmas during which the restaurant is closed, when it isn’t business as usual.
“Christmas Day is for my employees,” owner Peggy Reed said. “They give up Thanksgiving for our customers.”
It’s no small deal to come to work on Thanksgiving day, either. Last year, Reed estimated that around 2,000 people showed up,
“Give or take a little,” Reed said. “We can’t do any more than that.”
According to Georgie’s manager John Roske, the meal is more than food; it’s an opportunity to be introduced to neighbors from all over the area. “Not a seat goes unsat in,” Roske said. “If you’re at a table of six and there’s four of you, and two people come in, guess what? We’re seating them with you .... You basically end up meeting someone you don’t know.” Reed added, “Everywhere I’ve been since 1994 I’ve put on an open house Thanksgiving meal. It’s grown monstrously.”
The gross weights behind the meal are staggering: Georgie’s will serve 1,500 pounds of turkey, 240 pounds of ham and 500 pounds of potatoes.
The prep work is just as impressive. At the end of October, Georgie’s staff begins cooking turkeys and transferring the carved bits to a freezer truck.
“We start peeling potatoes tomorrow,” Reed said a week before the big day. By the time Thanksgiving day rolls around, there will be nearly 30 different items for diners to choose from, made almost entirely from scratch.
“We do everything in-house,” Roske said.
The day, as busy as it is, generally runs smoothly, but there are always upsets getting to it. This year, the freezer truck broke down, leaving Georgie’s in a bad situation. No one local works on freezer trucks, Reed said.
“Thankfully, Food City has been kind enough to let us use their freezer,” Reed said. During the meal, Georgie’s also operates a Thanksgivingto-go option out back, making use of a steamer table the restaurant uses once a year for that purpose alone.
For those looking for a Thanksgiving meal prior to the day itself, the Bread of Life Community Dinner takes place Tuesday, Nov. 21 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Camp Verde Community Center Gym.
The seven-church, multiagency organization offers free meal service in the same location, serving approximately 200 people each Tuesday. For Thanksgiving, however, Bread of Life’s Duane Burris anticipates serving upward of 400 community members.
An all-volunteer staff will number anywhere from 35 to 50. According to Burris, the majority of the food comes from St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance, which offers food assistance programs throughout the state. Monetary and material donations come mainly from the public.
All meals are free, but the organization takes donations, as well. Also prior to Thanksgiving day, Old Town Mission will be serving a free Thanksgiving brunch at the mission Wednesday, Nov. 22 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
According to mission general manager Kellie Wilson, the annual event typically serves more than 300 people.
The mission is still seeking volunteers for setup, cleanup, cooking and serving. Call 634-7869 to volunteer for the event. The dinner is free, but the mission will take cash donations to help cover costs.
Both Bread of Life and Old Town Mission participated in turkey and Thanksgiving meal distributions prior to their dinners.