WFU Turkeypalooza tradition leaves lasting community impact

Wake Forest University students are giving back to help those in need this holiday season. They prepared hundreds of meals for local residents facing food insecurity during Turkeypalooza.

On a busy Tuesday evening, the largest cooking day of the event, the kitchen on campus was filled with smells of a Thanksgiving feast. Wake Forest students were at stations gathering ingredients and preparing recipes. 

“We are peeling carrots and chopping carrots. We need 35 cups for the stuffing, so this is the first of many. 35 cups, yes plenty of stuff,” said seniors Annie Arrix and Bridget Quigley.

The scratch-made meals include turkey, green beans, and sweet potato casserole. The ingredients come from local farms and vendors. This includes using 200 pounds of sweet potatoes – all grown in the campus garden that students also helped harvest.

Senior Reed Sakakeeny volunteered to deliver meals – and on this day, he’s experiencing his first cooking shift.

“I just like meeting new people while doing this and obviously it requires a lot of teamwork and so you learn some new skills and hopefully you make the food as good as possible so everyone can enjoy. ” Reed Sakakeeny, WFU student volunteer

Turkeyplaooza is Campus Kitchen’s largest annual event. Campus Kitchen rescues and recovers food from local grocery stores and the campus dining halls that would otherwise go to waste and uses it to fight hunger and poverty in the greater Winston-Salem area. 

From fundraising and buying supplies – to making sure enough food is made each day and delivered, students oversee this program from start to finish.  

Six hundred Thanksgiving meals will be prepared for residents in Forsyth County.

“It’s been nice for our college community to connect with the greater Winston area community,” said student shift leader Delaney Buck. “We have been spending hours every day doing all we can to make these meals come together. It’s great to bond with other students over a common cause.”

The meals are delivered to local nonprofits who distribute them.

One of those community partners is the Shalom Project. Mercedes Jackson is a recent graduate of Wake Forest and is completing a year of service at the Shalom Project through AmeriCorps VISTA. The organization is seeing a strong need for services this year.

Jackson said their clients face unemployment, and are struggling with rising healthcare, food and housing costs. She said programs like Turkepalooza have an immediate and long-lasting impact.

“The Turkeypalooza meals directly support two of our programs for folks who are in poverty and are trying to step out of it or seek some kind of care. And just knowing that we have such a dedicated and community partner in Campus Kitchen - they not only provide meals during Turkeypalooza, but they help us stock our food pantry too." ” Mercedes Jackson, The Shalom Project

Near the end of their cooking shift, students Arrix and Quigley emptied their cups of chopped vegetables into roasting pans. They are excited to take on the next task and continue a Wake Forest tradition that has been around for the past 16 years.

“I think it’s just a great way to give back and I’m really grateful that Wake allows us to have these opportunities,” said Quigley. “Because I feel like without it, especially Campus Kitchen I wouldn’t know about all of the stuff that I get to participate in and volunteer for, it’s just a great thing to do right before the holidays makes me feel like I’m giving back.” Arrix added, “Especially in the Winston-Salem community. I feel like the least we can do as Wake students is make a difference and help families that need it.”

According to Feeding America’s most recent Map the Meal Gap report, 13% of Forsyth County residents struggle with food insecurity, while that rate is about 20% for children.

Wake Forest University is also providing additional programming and student volunteer opportunities, as part of National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week.

Students prep sweet potatoes harvested from the WFU Campus Garden.
Ana Huckins, a WFU graduate assistant and Cazandra Rebollar, assistant director of civic engagement begin a cooking shift.
WFU student and shift leader Delaney Buck (center) gets an update on the stuffing.
Around 130 meals were prepared on Tuesday, the largest cooking day of the event.
Erica Carl – sophomore at Wake Forest is excited to be part of this WFU tradition.
Wake Forest students will also deliver the meals to local nonprofits.
Campus Kitchen's Turkeypalooza is celebrating 16 years of service.

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