This Is What You’re Doing On Thanksgiving

Cooking for people who really need it.

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Two rows of takeout containers filled with Thanksgiving dinner of turkey, beans, a roll and macaroni and cheese.
Last year Taj Cooke handed out 500 Thanksgiving dinners. This year he wants to quadruple that. / Taj Cooke

Face facts: You’re not going to get to spend Thanksgiving with your sweet old grandparents this year. You might not even get to spend it with your parents or your chosen family. Thanks to Colorado’s skyrocketing COVID cases, uncertainty about whether restaurants (much less bars) will be open for business come November 26, and the inherent difficulties of getting from one place to another when everyone around you is shedding virus like Typhoid Mary, peoples’ Turkey Day plans are on hold, in flux, or on the back burner.

Chef with knife pretending to stab a misshapen carrot that looks like a person.
Jesus Silva slaughtering mandrakes (er…prepping carrots) for last year’s Madsgiving. / Taj Cooke

Whether you’re thrilled to be skipping forced familial togetherness or will actually miss the gathering, stop waffling and finalize your plans for the day by helping out at chef Taj Cooke’s Madsgiving, a project to provide 2,000 turkey dinners to people around the state on Thanksgiving Day. Bonus: The dynamics will be delightfully drama-free.

Cooke’s project started almost a decade ago, when he found that cooking Thanksgiving dinner for just two people (he and his wife Danielle) wasn’t the easiest thing. So he started feeding his neighbors in his Denver apartment complex. He admits it soon got out of hand: “We had people knocking on our door, and I couldn’t say no.” So the couple started boxing up food and giving it away to people in downtown Denver.

He was also galvanized to grow the event by a not-so-civilized incident that occurred while he was working at Mother Tongue in Denver’s Broadway Market. Due to the POS system setup, one of the eatery’s employees was unable to accept cash and a frustrated guest literally flung bills at her face. “I got tired of feeding people who could just swipe a card or throw money at people,” Cooke says. Upon hearing about the altercation, he thought, “I don’t want to feed people [like that] anymore.”

Last year, the Cookes served 500 meals to people, thanks to donations from farms and food and restaurant suppliers. This year, he’s aiming for 2,000, and he’s not limiting it to the Denver area. He’s secured two kitchen spaces in Denver (Broadway Market and Junction Food & Drink) and a third site in Grand Lake so he can also deliver dinner to residents impacted by the brutal East Troublesome Fire.

Selfie of Black man and woman with dreadlocks pointing to donated food behind them.
Danielle and Taj Cooke transporting a haul of donated potatoes and chiles. / Taj Cooke

Currently, Cooke still needs volunteers in the Grand Lake area (or willing to head up there) to prep on Wednesday and Thursday morning and have all meals delivered to recipients before NFL kickoff at 2:30 p.m. He attributes this very important deadline to memories of his first Thanksgiving after he came to America from Jamaica at the age of 11: “My dad kept saying, ‘We need the food to be finished before kickoff!’ The Colts were playing, if I remember correctly. That’s the way I was introduced to Thanksgiving and that’s how I want to continue the tradition.”

If you’re able to lend a hand, visit the event website for Ms. Betty’s Madsgiving to sign up; you can contact Cooke with questions at tajahi@msbettysgrandson.com. He’s also launched a Go Fund Me campaign to raise money for the project.

“I believe everyone deserves a warm meal—not a half-warm meal or a meal you need to heat up,” he explains. “That’s my only goal right now, to try to bring a smile and take away one bit of worry. It’s hard to say no to individuals who are sleeping out of tents and RVs. People are tired, we all are. And, let’s make it clear: We are far from rich, but we are rich in friends and community.” 

Talk to us! Email your experiences (and thoughts, opinions, and questions—anything, really) to askus@diningout.com

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