As he walked into the offices of Kenmore-Tonawanda Meals on Wheels Thursday morning, Dan Wiles quickly realized this was going to be no ordinary Thanksgiving.
“We have a huge problem,” Stephanie Hurley, the organization’s kitchen manager told him.
When he heard about the problem, “I said a very bad word,” Wiles recalled.
Fifty-two turkeys, which had been roasted the day before and were going to be sliced up and served to about 600 people — including many needy and elderly individuals — had spoiled during the night. The refrigeration unit on the Meals on Wheels’ walk-in cooler had stopped functioning.
“We started scrambling,” said Wiles, executive director of Kenmore-Tonawanda Meals on Wheels since 2013. “Our job is to serve the community. This had never happened to us before.”
All the turkeys that had been donated had to be thrown away.
“They were in the danger zone. We checked their temperatures and they were all around 65 degrees inside,” Wiles said.
With the organization’s annual Thanksgiving feast just a few hours away, and with the first of 100 volunteers showing up at the site, Wiles and his staff made telephone calls to local grocers, looking for all available cooked turkeys.
They found that 8-pound cooked turkey breasts were available at the nearby Tops market on Sheridan Drive and the Dash’s market on Colvin Boulevard.
“We got 125 pounds of turkey at Tops and 25 pounds at Dash’s,” Wiles said.
The turkey reinforcements were heated up in the Meals on Wheels kitchen, providing enough tasty poultry for 440 home-delivered meals, about 50 meals for people who attended the annual feast and about 50 takeout meals.
“The only thing that was missing was dark meat,” Wiles said.
Speaking to The Buffalo News on Friday, Wiles said he was thankful for the efforts of volunteers and staffers, especially Hurley, and volunteer coordinators Alexis Clune and Kiana Wiles, the executive director’s daughter. He also thanked the Ken-Ton Kiwanis Club, the Kenmore Lions Club and the Zonta Club of Kenmore, the three organizations that paid for most of the turkeys that had to be thrown away. He also thanked the Banchetti by Rizzo's restaurant in Amherst for roasting the turkeys.
Ultimately, the new turkey breasts that had to be purchased cost Meals on Wheels about $1,200, Wiles said. He hopes donations will cover the unanticipated expense.
The walk-in cooler was repaired on Friday, and Wiles said he was relieved at how things worked out.
“You would never wish for anything like this to happen, but when it does happen and everything works out OK, it makes a good memory,” Wiles said. “It’s like one of those family Thanksgiving dinners where everything goes wrong. That’s the one your family talks about for years to come.”