Josie Uptain, 5, eats at the Kids Unlimited turkey dinner in Medford on Wednesday. All food was donated by businesses and members of the commnity. - Julia Moore

Hundreds feast at Kids Unlimited turkey dinner

Kids Unlimited head chef Jennifer Ritter admits she was a little intimidated at the mountain of food facing her the day before she tackled the organization's annual Thanksgiving feast.

"It was a little overwhelming at first," Ritter said as she stirred a pot of ham glaze. "But now that it's started it feels manageable."

Ritter spent most of Wednesday evening in the kitchen, cooking for hundreds of families seeking a Thanksgiving meal.

The Kids Unlimited holiday feast is a tradition stretching back 13 years, according to Tom Cole, the organization's executive director.

The food was donated by various businesses and families throughout the area, Cole said.

"A lot of people pitch in every year," Cole said. "As the need gets bigger, so does the supply."

In all, Ritter was tasked with cooking 24 turkeys, 13 hams, close to 200 pounds of potatoes, six gallons of turkey gravy and a mound of green beans.

"The key is being prepared with your prep the day before so you can get started immediately," Ritter said.

The Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Los Angeles graduate also had to deal with 500 pounds of pears donated by Naumes.

"We are giving them away," Ritter said. "You could make so many things with that many pears."

Judging by the reception in Kids Unlimited dining area, the meal was a success.

Hundreds of people, many with their young children in tow, filed past the servers throughout the evening. Kids Unlimited plans for around 500 people each year, Cole said.

Ray Bedwell, 75, spent a portion of the evening filling bowls with winter squash soup. He volunteered after hearing about the meal through the Foster Grandparent Program.

"When my wife was alive she told me that I wasn't going to sit around the house," Bedwell said. "She said I was going to go out and volunteer."

Bedwell the tough times of the past three years makes volunteering all the more important in Medford.

"This is when people need it most," he said.

Meanwhile, Ritter hustled in the kitchen as serving trays began to empty on the dining room floor. Ritter runs Kids Unlimited's culinary program that teaches kids healthy cooking and eating. Her students pitched in on the dozens of homemade pies served for dessert.

"They loved making the pies, but were like, 'But we're not going to get to eat them!,' " Ritter said. "But a lot of them are attending the meal."

Ritter is happy to use her culinary school training at a community-focused nonprofit like Kids Unlimited.

"It's very rewarding to help people who need a hot meal on Thanksgiving," she said.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or e-mail

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