FARMINGTON — The unlikely pairing of inmates and a high school girl's basketball team will take care of the turkey for the community's traditional public Thanksgiving meal.

The meal is a Farmington tradition of at least 30 years, said Cindy Anderson, a major for the Salvation Army in Farmington.

The Salvation Army organizes the meal and invites everyone. At least 1,000 people are expected to attend this year's Thanksgiving offering, which is served from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday at the Farmington Civic Center.

The event is free and open to the public.

"Cooking a whole turkey for a senior or just two people is overwhelming," Anderson said. "And there were a lot of families who came last year that didn't have the money to go out and buy a $27 turkey with all the trimmings.

Trays of turkeys are shown in the jail s kitchen on Tuesday.
Trays of turkeys are shown in the jail s kitchen on Tuesday. (Brandon Iwamoto The Daily Times)

Organizers expect a big turnout for this year's event because of increasing food prices.

The cost of a Thanksgiving dinner for 10 people increased by about $5 from last year and is close to $50, according to an American Farm Bureau Federation news release earlier this month.

There will be 95 turkeys, 800 pounds of mashed potatoes and the usual side dishes at this year's meal, Anderson said.

The Salvation Army collected hundreds of turkeys and money donations in the last 10 days to make the meal, she said. Clear Channel radio stations' annual turkey drive in Farmington accrued 167 turkeys and the National Wild Turkey Foundation donated 65 turkeys.

Turkeys not used Thursday will be given to families during Christmas, Anderson said.


So far in November, 600 families have applied for assistance for their Christmas dinner.

If people want to help at the Thanksgiving meal, the organization is still in need of more deserts. The Salvation Army also needs volunteers to help serve the food. So far 400 have committed to volunteering on Thanksgiving.

The San Juan County Adult Detention Center prepared about two-thirds of the turkeys that will be used on Thanksgiving.

At 3 a.m. Tuesday morning, a crew of almost 20 inmates started work in the detention center's large kitchen.

In addition to breakfast, they cooked 118 turkeys; 66 will go to the community meal and 52 will be used for the inmates' Thanksgiving dinner, said Rafael Castillo, the food services director at the detention center.

The turkeys will be stored in refrigerators at Sacred Heart Catholic School prior to the feast, where students are helping to prepare the potatoes, Anderson said.

The Piedra Vista girl's basketball team is de-boning the turkeys on Wednesday, she said.

The inmates "are happy when they are doing the prep. They are willing, they aren't forced," Castillo said. "They are willing to cook. It makes them feel good."

The kitchen staff is a unique position at the jail. Only those with a misdemeanor record can qualify to work the kitchen, said Tom Havel, the director of the detention center.

While incarcerated, the kitchen staff can work toward a short-order cook certificate from Castillo. The program has had several success stories in recent years of former inmates getting good jobs in the food-service industry, Castillo said.

"It's people that want to learn and we teach them." Castillo said of the kitchen staff. "The standards we have here are very high standards. (The health department) holds us to the highest standards."