Nick Johnson says he is not a chef. He just decides what to cook, when to cook and how to cook for up to 30,000 people at the Hosea Feed the Hungry Christmas banquet at Turner Field.
This year, the meal includes 1,000 turkeys and 200 hams. Volunteers will cook and serve 500 trays of stuffing and 300 gallons of gravy. "That's a lot of gravy," Johnson said.
Four thousand number 10 cans, which hold about 13 cups each, will be opened to provide side dishes of beans, corn and yams. This year, the Yesana Mission Korean church will also provide smaller portions of salad, steamed cabbage, Korean seasoned beef, spicy chicken vegetables, rice, egg omelets, sushi and bananas for dessert.
Johnson owns an Asian food sales company in Atlanta and met the Rev. Hosea Williams after the famous civil rights leader made a speech nearly 30 years ago. Johnson grew up in Harlan County, Ky., one of the poorer regions of the U.S., and Williams inspired him to pitch in. He learned how to feed 30,000 by doing it, working his way up from chief bottle washer to big chief.
"I think I've fed over 2 million people," in the 27 years he has been helping out, Johnson said.
Nearly 400 volunteers began showing up in shifts Thursday at 3 p.m. at the kitchen of the DeKalb County Jail. By the time the last dish leaves the kitchen Christmas Day, the crews will have worked 24 hours straight. About 900 more volunteers from more than 50 corporations, churches and service organizations will have pitched in, transporting the food to Turner Field and serving it. Volunteers will begin serving around 10 a.m. and will continue past 3 p.m.
"If you want to get religious, it is my job to show up and God's job to get all the other people there," Johnson said.
"We will have bankers working with people that have been arrested. Motorcycle clubs and churches. I call it the most unorganized organized event there is," he said.
"We don’t get to practice, so from my side it is kind of scary," he said. "But you don't have a choice. You have got to make it happen."