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Gobble for Good

Give stressful family dinners the bird and help a local chef feed 10,000 people on Thanksgiving.

Chef Taj Cooke needs kitchen volunteers, and he doesn’t care whether you’re a pro—although, he notes, “After 2020, everyone should at least be able to sauté a damn onion.”

Cooke’s annual Thanksgiving meal giveaway (informally dubbed “Madsgiving”) began years ago when he his wife Danielle invited neighbors to their apartment for a holiday meal. In 2019, the Cookes gave out 500 free turkey dinners around Denver. Last year, the pair and a team of volunteers distributed 3,300 hot meals across the Denver-metro area and in Grand Lake in the aftermath of the East Troublesome fire. This year, they hope to raise $10,000 to feed 10,000 Coloradans.

In order to nearly triple the impact of 2021’s effort, Madsgiving is spreading out. The Salvation Army is chipping in by dispatching two of its mobile kitchens to help: one to Aurora’s Mean Street Worship Center and the second to Poudre Canyon Chapel in Bellvue, where residents affected by this summer’s flash flooding and mudslides will be able to obtain a hot holiday meal. Volunteers will also be turning out meals in kitchens at Montclair Church (Aurora); Avanti Food & Beverage (Denver); and Zeppelin Station (Denver). Cooke is sourcing 50 to 100 turkeys to donate in Grand Lake. He’s also considering sending a group to cook in Eagle County, as well.


Chef Taj Cooke (in black) will not ask you to break down a hog if you volunteer for Madsgiving (we think). / Courtesy Taj Cooke

Cooke is hoping to pull off the distribution with just 50 volunteers. “Last year, over 100 people reached out to volunteer, but we only used 30,” he notes. Cooke is looking for at least 10 professional chefs to head up five kitchen crews. If you haven’t worked in a pro kitchen, don’t worry: You don’t have to have perfected the ubiquitous pandemic sourdough to help out. “I’ve always put one or two chefs at each location and had seven or eight volunteers with them,” says Cooke. “I can teach anyone to cook.” He’s happy to take all comers, but we say if you haven’t mastered that sautéed onion, you might think twice about picking up a sharp knife and opt to help out some other way (keep reading). If you are interested in jumping on the line, reach out to Cooke via the Madsgiving website or @msbettysgrandson.

Feeding 10,000 folks (half the capacity of Ball Arena, or the Venue Formerly Known as Pepsi Center™) just isn’t possible without large-scale help, and Cooke is quick to shout out organizations that have done just that. There’s Platteville’s Miller Farms, which is donating ingredients; the Salvation Army; and EP Distribution, which is providing all the to-go containers. And those are just a few groups helping out, he notes.

You—yes, you, even if you have two left thumbs and survived 2020 without once chopping a vegetable—can also join that list by donating to the effort’s Go Fund Me campaign. Money raised towards the $10,000 goal will cover food costs in excess of donations, transportation for volunteers, and all the additional costs in putting on an event of this scale.

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

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