GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - The cooking started Monday, as volunteers fired up the ovens at the Fraternal Order of Eagles No. 215, located at 312 7th St.
As of 1 p.m. Wednesday, the ovens had cranked out about 10 of the succulent fowl, after volunteers made emergency repairs to the oven and refrigerator, partially paid for by several hundred dollars in last-minute donations from area residents.
By the time the servers start handing out free turkey and all the trimmings at 11 a.m. today, the volunteer crew expected to have cooked up nearly 30 birds, mostly at the Eagles club kitchen, but some, perhaps 10 or so, at the homes of members around Glenwood Springs.
Organizers said they expect to serve up to 300 dinners to all and sundry today by 5 p.m.
The feast at the Eagles Club is one of two such extravaganzas taking place in the lower Roaring Fork Valley today.
The second is at the Pour House, 351 Main St. in Carbondale, where roughly a dozen birds will be served up free, from noon until about 7 p.m. or until the food runs out.
At the Eagles club, the tradition goes back 32 years, to Thanksgiving Day in 1980. Long-time club member Danny Gonzales cooked up a single bird with the trimmings and served it to friends, club members and anyone else who came by.
"Unless the event at your own house is bigger, this'll be the place to be," said organizer and kitchen overseer Charli Griffith, a member of the Eagles Club and veteran of the annual Thanksgiving dinner extravaganza.
Chad Oghun, Griffith's younger brother, helped out with the refitting of one of the kitchen rooms, and plans to help out some more.
"Whatever they tell me to do, I do," he said. "My older sister cracks the whip."
"It's pretty mellow, fully organized," said Dan Holley, a key organizer of the event, who noted that most of the kitchen crew has been doing this for eight or 10 years.
But not all.
"I love it," said 12-year old Kaysha Clark of Rifle.
This was Kaysha's first year of volunteering for the event, though her mom, Eagle's Club member Terisa Clark, has been doing it for about four years.
"It's my social life," said Terisa matter-of-factly.
She noted that since moving to Rifle a year ago with her boyfriend, Craig Pickett, she has felt somewhat divorced from her circle of friends in Glenwood Springs.
That situation is solved, she said, the moment she takes a seat in the kitchen and starts peeling potatoes, stripping turkey from the carcasses, and chatting with friends she hasn't seen in months.
"The first time I did it," she recalled, "I peeled potatoes forever, it seemed. But it was so fun. You didn't always peel with the same person."
Aside from the reconnection with friends, she said of the volunteering, "It makes you feel good."
Pickett, a five-year member of the club and veteran of the dinners, said he got involved because it made him feel good, too.
"That first time, I never had so much joy," he said. "To have a roomful of people, to be feeding them, have them smiling and knowing this is a good place to be."
Kaysha, shy at first about talking with a stranger, quickly got over that.
"I was just peeling turkey," she noted emphatically when a reporter spoke of her role in the kitchen.
After thinking over the question of why she was there, Kaysha said, "I wanted to. For some reason, I feel like helping. It's just the feeling that I can actually help. It's like a rush of energy. Like eating a piece of candy that you haven't been able to eat for a while."
Besides all the good eats, said Holley, there will be live music from acoustic guitarists Chad Leny and John Gracey. Holley said the club also will accommodate anyone else who feels the urge to perform on the stage at the back of the hall today.
After dinner, there will be the usual array of games to be played: shuffleboard, pool, Corn Hole, Foosball and beer-pong.
And for those unable to get to the Eagles Club today, long-time Eagle Donnie Reinhart will be performing his traditional task of delivering dozens of meals to residents of assisted living centers, shut-ins and others.
"He's got it down," said Griffith. "He knows where to go and who to talk to."