DANVILLE — How many sausage links does it take to satisfy the hungry folks who turn out for the annual Kiwanis Pancake & Sausage Day?
Dana Wheeler, Danville Area Community College’s culinary arts instructor, knows. This will be the second year that she and her culinary arts students will cook 16,000 sausage links for the all-you-can-eat fundraiser that draws thousands of people.
The 69th annual meal will be served 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, at the David S. Palmer Arena. Proceeds will be divided among 22 charities in the county.
“They all benefit children in the community,” Kiwanian Dr. Wes Bieritz said of the charities.
The event is put on by the Kiwanis Noon Club with help from the Golden K. In addition to the members of the two clubs, more than 100 volunteers from schools and other groups help out.
“They pour coffee and put out syrup,” Bieritz said of the volunteers. “We have at least a dozen volunteers making the pancakes on the griddle simultaneously to keep up during the peak time, which starts at 5 p.m.”
Back at DACC’s culinary arts kitchen, Wheeler will arrive before dawn Thursday to start preparing the first batch of sausage links.
“I come in at 4 a.m., and we will be done by 5 or 5:30 at night,” she said. “It takes almost the whole day. It’s just about all we can do.”
Danville District 118’s food service staff used to prepare all the sausage links for the event until last year when Pancake & Sausage Day happened to coincide with the school district’s fall break.
“The Kiwanis Club approached me about it last year,” Wheeler recalled. “It’s their (District 118) fall break again this year.”
The 16,000 sausage links weigh 1,000 pounds and arrive in 100 cases of 10-pound boxes, she said.
“It helps that we have a walk-in cooler this year,” Wheeler said. “Last year, our two freezers and two commercial-size refrigerators were full of sausage.”
Throughout the day, adult culinary arts students and afternoon College Express students — a total of 45 students in all — will cook the sausage links and ensure the meat is kept at the correct temperature. The sausage links actually are baked.
“We have a double-stack convection oven, and 120 sausages fit on a sheet pan,” Wheeler said.
“It’s good practice for the students to cook such a high volume of food and to keep the sausages up to temperature while waiting to be delivered,” she said.
“Timing is everything. They learn how long it takes to cook it and when they have to have it ready for pick up,” Wheeler said. “Just the volume of it is a good experience for them.
“By the time you pan them (sausages) up, bake them and package them up to keep them the right temperature, they’re coming back to pick up more,” she said. “We also have to keep washing the pans.
“It helps them learn the process,” Wheeler added. “It’s not every day you get to cook 1,000 pounds of sausage.”
Kiwanis members pick up the cooked sausage links at DACC and transport it to the civic center.
“They (Kiwanis members) come and pick it up,” Wheeler said. “Everything is transported in insulated hot boxes. They have an electric hot box there (at the event), too.”
Bieritz, who’s been involved with the event for about 53 years, said last year about 3,500 people showed up to the event.
“Most of those people are fed during the peak time from 5 to 7 p.m.,” he said.
Diners are served pancakes, sausage links and drinks, including white and chocolate milk, orange juice and coffee.
Bieritz said the event uses 60 cases of pancake mix that comes in 5-pound boxes, which is donated by PepsiCo (Quaker Oats), and serves the 1,000 pounds of sausages. PepsiCo also donates the syrup.
“About 4,000 drinks are served and the coffee is uncountable,” he said.
“They love to sit around and drink coffee and it’s hard to get them to leave,” Bieritz joked. “It’s Danville’s big fall picnic.”
When Pancake Day started in 1950, it first was at the First Presbyterian Church, with the cost being 10 cents a plate. The women cooked the pancakes and did the cleanup.
Later, it moved to the Masonic Lodge, but when the lines of waiting people became too long outside, the event relocated to the civic center where it has been ever since.
Pancake Day is always the third Thursday in October.
This year’s corporate sponsors are: Quaker Division of PepsiCo, Aqua Illinois, ONI Risk Partners, Commercial-News and C.H. Smith Insurance Agency.