Shane Perez had never cooked a Thanksgiving turkey before this week. But by 9 a.m. Monday, the Tempe High School 16-year-old had already prepped seven turkeys for the big day.
He and other culinary classmates at the East Valley Institute of Technology in Mesa put in about 120 hours of work preparing traditional items like pumpkin pie for community members willing to fork over a little cash in exchange for a little less work on Thanksgiving.
“It’s a lot easier than it looks,” Perez said, while removing innards from a turkey.
More than 24,000 dinner rolls, 1,500 loaf breads, 38 turkeys and 1,300 pies were baked, basted and created by the students for the big feast coming up Thursday. Community members placed their orders weeks ago and will pick up their items today.
Baking instructor Carlton Brooks said when he first started this project 20 years ago, he began with a budget of a few hundred dollars to cover the costs of the ingredients. Now he spends about $15,000 to keep up with the growing orders each Thanksgiving.
Orders increased by 30 percent this year.
“I was not prepared for it,” Brooks said. “There will be a lot of last-minute baking.”
For a buck, community members could purchase a dozen rolls. Pies were $5 each and loaf breads were $3.50 a piece. Students not only gained work experience from the hours spent baking, but some will also receive scholarship money, Brooks said.
Profits from the Thanksgiving sales will go toward college scholarships or funds students will use to purchase tools for the trade. Last year, nearly $8,000 worth of scholarship money was raised from the sales.
“When employees see what they’ve been doing, (the students) are more likely to be hired when they have this background and experience,” he said.
Arcadia High School senior Michael Ortega said he thinks the skills he learned from preparing meals will help him achieve his ultimate goal of managing his own restaurant.
“It’s fast-paced,” the 17-year-old said. “It keeps you on your feet.”