'They're a long way from home': COD culinary students cook Thanksgiving dinner for Navy recruits

About 50 recruits from the Great Lakes Naval Station in North Chicago, many far from home, will sit down to a traditional Thanksgiving dinner Thursday prepared by culinary students from the College of DuPage.

The Thanksgiving Adopt-A-Sailor program is back after a two-year pandemic hiatus. It allows recruits a respite from boot camp, including roughly 50 or so that will be feted at Villa Park VFW Post 2801.

"This is a great way to show our thanks for the people who provide our freedoms to us," said Timothy Meyers, a chef and culinary arts professor at COD in Glen Ellyn.

Meyers is leading his first-year culinary students on Monday and Tuesday in preparing a traditional Thanksgiving feast for about 100 people, including the VFW volunteers. The VFW donated eight turkeys, a dozen hams, 50 pounds each of mashed and sweet potatoes, 10 pounds of stuffing and 20 pounds of green beans for the meal.

The VFW will be among about 20 area organizations that will join local families in hosting more than 1,300 recruits from the Navy's only boot camp.

Buses will take recruits to Villa Park on Thursday morning. The recruits will be greeted by Villa Park firefighters and volunteers waving flags. Once inside the post, they'll have breakfast and access to phones and computers to connect with family and friends before sitting down to the Thanksgiving meal.

"It's a wonderful, wonderful experience, and it's very heartwarming," said Rae Rupp Srch, who chairs the event for the VFW. "For that day, they're all family. We want them to feel like they're at home with the family."

The Villa Park VFW has taken part in the program, which has been around since World War II, since 2010. The post is working with COD for the third time.

Food preparations started at COD on Monday, with gravy stock simmering in giant vats, sides being prepped and four of the 16-pound turkey breasts getting roasted.

After slathering each with almost a pound of compound butter, first-semester culinary student Kevin Carberry of Geneva loaded the turkey breasts that he helped prep into an oven.

While it's his first semester, it certainly wasn't the first turkey for the 57-year-old.

"I've always loved to cook," Carberry said. "So after I retired, I wanted to see what I can learn here."

While he doesn't plan to work in a restaurant after earning his certification, Carberry said he wants to take his skills back to Fox Valley Food for Health in St. Charles, where he volunteers once a week in its kitchen.

"Anything I can learn here that can help them more would be great," he said. Carberry said his father was a veteran. He said he was looking forward to making it a better holiday for the Navy recruits.

"These guys and gals we're serving, they're a long way from home," he said. "This isn't exactly a home-cooked meal. But I think we're going to get pretty close to it."

  College of DuPage culinary student Kevin Carberry of Geneva puts turkeys in the oven at the school on Monday. First-year students are cooking a Thanksgiving dinner for cadets from the Great Lakes Naval Station. Rick West/
  Finished turkey breasts wait to come out of the oven Monday at College of DuPage. Rick West/
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