Denver chef, volunteers cook all night, deliver Thanksgiving food all day

Denver chef Tajahi Cooke was busy cooking, packing and distributing thousands of charitable Thanksgiving meals Thursday morning, but when he saw a young man in need outside one of his headquarters, he paused to take the person a plate of hot food.

Cooke set up shop at Denver food halls Zeppelin Station and Avanti Food and Beverage, with a rotating cast of volunteers who started cooking Wednesday night and hadn’t stopped Thursday morning.

Cooke took a timeout with the man in need — who sat outside Zeppelin Station on Thanksgiving morning wrapped in a blanket and without shoes — to talk with him and give him a warm meal.

This was the generous spirit Cooke and his team were all about.

“I just want to inject some good into the world,” Cooke said.

Volunteers prepare 1,500 Thanksgiving meals for the needy on Thursday at Zeppelin Station in Denver. (Kathryn Scott/Special to The Denver Post)

Cooke, wife Danielle and a crew of more than 100 volunteers were hard at work for the chef’s third annual Ms. Betty’s Harvest Madsgiving — a Thanksgiving event in which Cooke partners with local farmers, chefs, food distributors, volunteers and organizations helping the needy to cook and to hand out thousands of Thanksgiving meals across the Front Range.

Volunteers with touching stories have reached out to Cooke, offering their help on the holiday.

More than 100 volunteers were hard at work Thursday morning at Zeppelin Station for the third annual Ms. Betty’s Harvest Madsgiving. (Photo By Kathryn Scott/Special to The Denver Post)

“We’re talking about beautiful moms who are joining us this year in homage of their daughter who passed,” Cooke said. “We’re talking about individuals in their 20s who can’t afford to go home, people in their 60s and 70s who just don’t have any family and don’t have anywhere else to go. I’m actually seeing this being impactful on both ends — individuals who are in need and getting fed and those who are volunteering to help. It’s an emotional conversation.”

In addition to Zeppelin Station, above, and Avanti Food and Beverage, meals were distributed to Salvation Army locations, churches and more. (Photo By Kathryn Scott/Special to The Denver Post)

Cooke, who said he comes from humble beginnings, often prepared food for people experiencing homelessness and gave it away while driving around Denver. For the past few Thanksgivings, Cooke and his team have been doing the same on a bigger scale.

The homemade meals would be passed out to Salvation Army locations, church groups, Volunteers of America and people across the Front Range who could use some holiday spirit.

On the menu: cranberry sauce, green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy, roasted turkey, smoked pork and chicken.

Ethan Wong, 12, carries containers filled with meals to be delivered on Thursday at Zeppelin Station. (Photo By Kathryn Scott/Special to The Denver Post)

When oven space at Zeppelin Station became tight, Nicolaus Weber began working the grills outside the Denver food hall. The Zeppelin Station kitchen manager cooked up trays full of spatchcocked birds and basked in the aroma of grilled meats.

“It’s great to be here feeding people,” Weber said. “It’s nice to see people doing and not just talking.”

Inside the restaurant space, benches that normally seat patrons were packed with trays full of food waiting to be packaged by bustling volunteers.

Leo Miceli, 9, places macaroni and cheese into each meal for delivery. (Photo By Kathryn Scott/Special to The Denver Post)

Marissa Miceli and her 10-year-old son, Rocco, scooped potatoes into containers destined for hungry bellies across the Denver area.