Around 2 a.m., a group of volunteers will gather in Old Metairie to begin the laborious process of setting up, cleaning and frying Thanksgiving Day’s main attraction.

Soon more volunteers will arrive ready to help. And by the end of the day, nearly 150 volunteers will have had a hand in the preparation of hundreds of fried turkeys, all done for a good cause.

The Dawn Busters Kiwanis Club’s annual Thanksgiving fried turkey fundraiser will be held Nov. 26 at the Lions Club Home, 1627 Metairie Road, Old Metairie. The birds, which weigh 12-14 pounds, are $47. For orders of 10 or more turkeys, the cost is $42 each.

“In previous year, we have fried as many as 900 turkeys and the goal this year is 800 turkeys,” said Anthony DiNatale, chairman of the event and president-elect of the club. “It’s a long day but it’s a great event. And we have a lot of volunteers who help make it a success.”

Partnering with the members of the Krewe of Carrollton who fry the turkeys for the event, high school key club members from Ridgewood Prep, Ecole Classique, Adams Middle School, East Jefferson High School and Mount Carmel Academy also volunteer.

“The students are a huge help,” DiNatale said. “They help with packaging the turkeys, collect the money for orders being picked up and also help cleaning up after the event is over.”

Once cleaned, the turkeys are injected with seasoning and then fried in peanut oil. Each bird is individually packaged for storage and includes re-heating instructions.

Mel Dussel is a past president of the Dawn Busters who serves on the group’s board of directors.

“We finish the turkey fry about 8 p.m. and we have over 150 Dawn Busters, family members, friends and Key Club boys and girls who help to pull it off,” Dussel said. “Also, many of our friends in the restaurant business supply all of the food for the volunteers that day.”

Proceeds from the event will go to the club’s Reward for Reading, an incentive program aimed at elementary and middle school students in Jefferson Parish to encourage them to read more.

“We donate bicycles and media players to area Jefferson Parish schools as rewards for reading books,” DiNatale said. “And this year, we have 20 schools participating.”

“This program is now in its eighth year and since it began seven years ago, participating students have read well over 1.3 million books,” added Dussel, chairman of the reading program. “A child reads a book and then takes a test on what he or she has read. Then, the club members come to the participating schools to give gifts to those who successfully complete the program.

“We have given out more than 250 new bikes, helmets, locks and chair sets. We have also given 3,000 free pizza cards to Domino’s, 3,000 free meals from Raising Canes, 50,000 passes to Adventure Quest Lazer tag, 70,000 passes for bowling at AMF All Star Lanes in Kenner and a whopping 250,000 passes to Zephyr baseball games.”

DiNatale said the deadline to order turkeys is midnight Nov. 25 and orders can be placed online at www.dawnbusters.org/turkey. DiNatale added those who order 10 or more turkeys will receive free delivery of their orders beginning at 10 a.m. Nov. 26.

“This is the most exhausting event that we do, but in all honesty, we laugh and cut up every minute of the day and evening, which is why Dawn Busters, as an organization, is so successful,” Dussel said. “We are people helping people who are having a great time in the process.”

“The turkey fry is a physical challenge but we give it all we have,” DiNatale said. “Those of us involved in Kiwanis do this event and other projects because we are motivated to serve and to give back in order to help better our community.”

For information, contact DiNatale at (504) 299-3370 or anthony@bavarianwealth management.com.