Jeff Tooles is looking forward to working a 12- to 14-hour-long shift on Thanksgiving Day.
On Thursday, the senior food services manager of Central Union Mission—an emergency shelter that offers a Spiritual Transformation Program (STP) for Washington, D.C.’s homeless men—will celebrate his twentieth Thanksgiving preparing and serving dinner at the shelter.
Tooles will cook roughly 70 “nice, pretty, golden brown” turkeys for those city dwellers who, as he says, “don’t have anywhere to go.”
Over the past twenty years, he estimates he’s cooked 1,500 turkeys for those in need.
“I have been here every Thanksgiving for 20 years,” Tooles proudly told The Daily Signal in an interview. “Men, women, families, anybody who walks through that door can eat. We turn nobody down.”
The chef will also oversee the preparation of enough stuffing, mashed potatoes, vegetables, and green beans to feed over 400 men, women, and children.
Alongside a fleet of four chefs and an estimated 160 volunteers, Tooles will serve a hot breakfast at 6 a.m., as Central Union Mission does each day, as well as lunch and dinner Thanksgiving servings.
Volunteers will cook, clean, serve dinner to those in attendance, and act as “table hosts,” sitting down alongside guests to share lunch or dinner and talk with one another.
Tooles understands the importance of a hot meal and conversation better than anyone. Before he began working at Central Union Mission, the Annapolis, Md., native was homeless.
“This is a tough time for a lot of people that don’t have families,” Tooles said. “It’s a lonely time. So the volunteers that do come here, it’s a great blessing for them to come and just sit down with somebody they don’t even know and say, ‘How are you doing? Are you having a great day?’ and just wish them a happy Thanksgiving.”
Tooles went through Central Union Mission’s STP program over 20 years ago before turning his life around. The Christian ministry course aims to “free men from the control of drugs, alcohol and other destructive behavior by establishing an active relationship with Jesus Christ.”
After completing the program, Tooles briefly went to work for a nursing home, volunteering at Central Union Mission two days a week on the side. Eventually, Tooles was recruited by the program director to head up the kitchen at Central Union Mission after he noticed that Tooles “was always around.”
“When I came here, I was homeless,” Tooles said. “[After the program], I had gotten a job, I had gotten a car, a place to live. I’ve met a lot of wonderful people here … volunteers, guys who are trying to get their lives back together … I just want to give back to the mission for what it’s done for me.”
On Tuesday, the chef was cooking the day’s lunch and beginning to prepare for Thursday’s events alongside Susan Page, Central Union Mission’s first ever female chef, and Jamie Pointer, a current STP student.
“I’ve only been here a month, and it’s going great,” Pointer said. “This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful that I’m still [here in the program], number one.”
For his part, Tooles, a grandfather of two, is thankful for his family:
I’m thankful for my family being supportive of what I’m doing and being there for me [through everything].