For the third year in a row, Waterford at Fair Oaks is joining with the Fairfax County Corps of the Salvation Army to provide a Thanksgiving for local needy families.
It won't be just any meal — it's an elegant and sumptuous feast with everything from turkey and stuffing to pumpkin pie and petit fours, prepared by Waterford's chef and his staff and served by volunteers.
"It's our way of giving back," said Keith Clark, Waterford owner, president and CEO. "To me, it's the most fun part of the holiday."
People apply for the dinner through the Salvation Army, and the ones attending are those who use that organization throughout the year for assistance. Clark expects 250 people to have their Thanksgiving meal at his facility, this Thursday.
"The word has gotten around that this is a great way to spend Thanksgiving, so this is a 'hot ticket,'" he said. "People really look forward to it. It's a family thing; they put on their best outfits and come here for dinner."
At Waterford, they're welcome guests, seated in the ballroom at tables replete with lovely china, silverware, Waterford crystal and tablecloths. Clark believes all these elements add to their overall experience, and he wouldn't have it any other way.
"We get immigrant families and families having a tough time making ends meet," said Clark. "Surprisingly, in this county of affluence, for many of them this is the first time they've eaten off fine china or seen crystal chandeliers."
He said their plight is "hidden" from most people but, "sadly, the need is there. And these are the people who fill the jobs the others don't want to take. They're hardworking people, but it's tough to live on a minimum wage in this county."
Clark said he's proud of his staff members for volunteering their time to help during the event. Many of Waterford's suppliers do their part by donating the produce, vegetables and pies. "They're really very generous in helping us out, so it's a group effort," he said.
Mike Rogers is the executive chef and COO, and even his family from out of town comes in to help with the dinner. "His father, from Pittsburgh, greets people at the door, and my kids come home from college and help out," said Clark. "It's really neat."
Organizations like the Salvation Army help the needy all year, he said, so he's happy to have this opportunity to lend a hand. "It makes you feel good," he said. "This is a real high for me, personally, that we have the facility and the wherewithal to do this. And my chef is an absolute genius — the food is fantastic."
For the big meal, which would normally cost more than $30 a plate, Rogers will serve 190 pounds of turkey, 50 pounds of stuffing, 5 gallons of gravy, 180 pounds of potatoes — both mashed and sweet, 100 heads of broccoli and 3 gallons of cranberry sauce, along with coffee, tea, milk, soda, water and juice.
Then will come an array of desserts: apple, pumpkin and pecan pies, fruits of the forest (berries) pies, pumpkin cheesecake and a dazzling Viennese table laden with Chocolate Revenge cake, Strawberry Roganoff cake, fruit flans, mini eclairs and petit fours.
Clark has been on the Salvation Army's board of directors for three years, and he offered to host the meal. Salvation Army Capt. Joe Burton calls it a "neat thing" for the community. "For people who wouldn't otherwise be able to have a Thanksgiving dinner, this affords them the opportunity to do so," he explained.
"Board members and their families will help serve and clean up, and board members also provide the turkeys for the dinner, itself," continued Burton. "The Waterford and Mr. Clark have been good supporters of the Salvation Army to meet the needs of the community, and we appreciate all they do."