Jordan Wynn and his friends know their restaurant will be busy Thursday afternoon.
Seven hundred men, women and children are expected to celebrate Thanksgiving at the Wallace M. Campbell Dining Center at the City Mission of Schenectady.
Food will be hot and plentiful — turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, mixed vegetables. And plenty of bread, plenty of desserts.
"They're all special," said Wynn, the Mission's community outreach coordinator, of Thanksgiving Day at the Mission and in the dining center. "We try to make every day Thanksgiving to people we serve."
Wynn and his kitchen teammates — Chef Michael Sicola, Director of Food Services Lloyd Noland, Assistant Director of Dining Services Kory Baskin, and volunteer Dennis Aldershoff — appreciate the chance to give back. They've had problems in the past — homelessness, prison, drugs among them -- and have been helped through participation in the Mission's "Bridges to Freedom" program.
The "Bridges" program helps troubled people get their lives back on track.
"They teach you in the program, they show you your strengths and weaknesses," said Wynn, 65, who came from Newark, New Jersey. "My strength has always been people. I love helping people — serving and giving back."
Wynn graduated from the "Bridges" program and has worked at the Mission for five years. At first, he was a volunteer in the kitchen area. Mission officials later offered him a paid position.
"I said, 'You're going to pay me for something I enjoy doing?'" Wynn said. "Sign me up."
Wynn will supervise volunteers who will help out during the Mission's big afternoon. He'll work as a kind of head waiter, as visitors will order from a menu. He'll greet people and use his big, booming laugh for Thanksgiving good cheer.
"You can't lose with Wynn," he said with a laugh.
"Our theme is giving thanks by giving back," said Mike Saccocio, the Mission's longtime executive director and chief executive officer.
"These men are in a real way reinventing dining services at the City Mission," Saccocio added during a Wednesday morning interview. "Maybe some things that we've always done, they're telling us we can do them better, they're passionate advocates for the folks coming here because they've been there."
Saccocio also said the team has developed the "Home Run Dining Services" program, which ensures people have choices for dinner, makes sure people receive nutritious food, and receive opportunities to talk to others.
"They're encouraging more people to eat with the folks who come rather than simply standing and giving them a plate of food," Saccocio said. "Sometimes, the best gift you give someone is to sit down and eat together."
Here's how other members of the kitchen team feel about Thanksgiving, their jobs and the Mission:
Sicola, 47, came from Houston.
"God takes you places, doesn't he?" he said, smiling. "Schenectady! I'd have laughed you out of the room."
Sicola loves his life now, and his work in the kitchen.
"I conquered a fear of the unknown, not knowing what you're doing next," he said. "Having friends, making new friends, being honest. I was always hiding things. That's all gone now."
Sicola learned cooking skills from Mission personnel, and from volunteers with culinary expertise. He's become an expert himself.
"I like soups," Sicola said. "And anything Italian — I'll hook it up, I'll make it taste right."
Sicola generally works early mornings into early afternoons; the Mission serves four meals a day so there are always kitchen duties. Serving food is one thing; serving advice to people who ask is another.
"We're going to find a way to work with you," Sicola said.
The 59-year-old Noland has worked at the Mission since 1997.
"I was able to turn my life around, get connected with the Lord," he said. "That was the main thing, I needed some stability in my life."
"I'm thankful for my wife, this place, the opportunity to serve and give back," Noland said. "I never get tired of people walking in, never get tired of seeing the looks on people's faces, that they've got a place to go."
Baskin, originally from New Brunswick, New Jersey, said bad decisions put him in trouble with drugs. He served time in prison. Life is better now, he said, a life where ordering food for the kitchen, engaging volunteers and some cooking are the new routine.
"Thanksgiving to me here is more of an amplified day that we do, it's our daily routine on steroids."
Baskin, 43, loves being in his kitchen. But like other members of the Mission "Home Run" team, he loves seeing people in the seats and at the tables, good food on their plates and good words on their lips.
"When you're in an environment where everybody's smiling, having fun, this is a great place to be," Baskin said. "The Lord is definitely in this house."
Rotterdam's Aldershoff, 63, volunteers in the kitchen — he's great with desserts — and is on the clean-up crew in the administrative wing of the Mission.
He believes it's great to give back. And he's thankful for a place in life.
"I'm just thankful I have this job, a reason to wake up in the morning," Aldershoff said. "I get to do a job where I can make someone happy."