The kitchen at the Challis senior center was a rockin' place several hours before the traditional community Thanksgiving dinner.
Volunteers mashed 50 pounds of potatoes, carved eight turkeys, whisked up huge batches of gravy -- both cornstarch- and flour-based -- and lined up pies, rolls, cookies, lots of green bean casserole pans and plenty of crock pots loaded with sweet potatoes. The side dishes were toted into the center by diners making their contributions to the meal. The turkeys arrived in giant roasting pans after other volunteers cooked them at their homes. Even more volunteers had spent Wednesday at the center baking rolls, washing potatoes and chopping vegetables.
Senior center Director Win Happy zipped around making sure people followed the rules about dishwashing, tuning the TV to a football game to occupy the early arrivals and telling people to stay hydrated.
"Rinse, wash, sanitize, then in the dishwasher," Happy said more than once about the dirty dish process. "We want everything nice and clean."
He'd follow that by pointing out where the water, tea and coffee were. "We don't want anyone getting dehydrated today."
Tom Johnson, the chairman of the Challis senior citizens group, donned his "hot stuff," chili pepper and tamale apron and multiple sets of gloves, depending on which chore he was tackling.
First were the restrooms.
"I was a combat medic," Johnson said, and his commanding officer insisted that their unit be the "cleanest of all. That practice has followed me through life," he said as he toted bottles of toilet and sink cleaners into the facilities.
Later, Johnson pulled on clean gloves and dubbed himself "Dr. Gizzard" to begin carving the big birds as Helen Winegarner gently removed them from the roasting pans. Dr. Gizzard soon had help from Paul Willingham in the carving department.
Johnson said he and his wife had lived near Gizzard City, Michigan, and the town of Turkeyville was nearby, so he deemed his nickname appropriate.
Meanwhile Linda Johnson -- who's married to Dr. Gizzard -- Nancy White and Carol Walsh made sure the table centerpieces were indeed centered, sliced up pies, loaded giant roasters with rolls wrapped in towels to keep them warm and moist and scooted all sorts of side dishes around on tables so diners could load up at the buffet table.
A couple of days after the dinner, Johnson said the new crew of volunteers forgot to keep a count of how many people joined in for dinner. He knows there were more than 100 "because we had 108 chairs and were full.
"We didn't run out of food or fellowship," Johnson said. In most years past, attendance has averaged around 100, Happy said. The two men said the community dinner is the senior citizens' way of saying thank you to Challis for all the support people give the senior center.
"Our real deal is we like getting together to put this on for the community," Johnson said. "We appreciate the community and all of the donations."
No one was charged to eat dinner, but donations were accepted and the money was split between the senior center and the Heart of Idaho Animal Sanctuary. White, the sanctuary's board chairman, reminded people of the animal giving tree that's on display at the sanctuary now and will be at the American Legion Christmas bazaar next weekend. People can pick a tag with suggested gifts for shelter pets.
People in Challis stepped up to the plate in the weeks before Thanksgiving, Happy said, and donated almost 30 turkeys for the dinner. Ten were prepared. The rest will be given away in drawings to be held at the Monday, Wednesday and Friday lunches at the senior center until they run out of the big birds.