In its 9th year, community meal brings 80 people together
By JEFF EPSTEIN
WINDSOR, Vt. — On a clear, cold Thanksgiving Day, members of the community gathered in the fellowship hall of the Rachel S. Harlow United Methodist Church to break bread together.
For the ninth year in a row, volunteers served a free Thanksgiving meal of turkey, bread, stuffing, mashed potatoes, squash, sweet potatoes, and other side dishes.
For some folks, it’s become a tradition now to navigate the path and the stairs outside the church, and descend down into the hallway, where a volunteer welcomed everyone with a joyous “Happy Thanksgiving!”
A few of them said this was the first time they can recall snow on the ground on Thanksgiving. In any case, eyeglasses were immediately fogged up on entrance. The procession was stalled briefly. Eyesight was restored with a quick wipe down of the lenses.
Then everyone made their way to the steam tables in the back of the room. Volunteers served the food.
“We came yesterday afternoon and did the carrots and squash,” said Bonnie St. Jean, who offered and presented the meal along with her sister Beth Gould. “Beth was here at 7 this morning to put the turkeys in” with the help of volunteers.
“This was our biggest turnout, 80 people,” said Gould. Although a few of the volunteers wore aprons from Rachael’s Kitchen, and the location was the same as the breakfast service of that name, this holiday service is not part of Rachael’s Kitchen.
However, Gould said the Thanksgiving meal this year does have one new connection to it, from the suggested donations that are made by patrons of it.
“The money that we give we always usually give to the Windsor Food Shelf. This year we are going to donate it back to Rachael’s Kitchen,” she said.
“It’s going to be close to $400,” St. Jean estimated.
Although the sisters and their family pay out of pocket for some of the groceries, the community also contributes to the meal in various ways, they said.
“The community is very generous,” said St. Jean. “We have a lot of pies and pastries that came from the community. The turkeys came from the hospital.”
The Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center, where Gould works, donates a turkey to each of its employees. This year a few were leftover, so they hospital donated them for the meal, she said. (The hospital is also a supporter of Rachael’s Kitchen.)
As people were served and seated, the meal began quietly, without ceremony. People were hungry and the food was good. Conversation slowly picked up as strangers introduced themselves to each other. Some knew the same people. Four people who happened to sit together discovered that they had all lived on Long Island in New York at one time or another.
Back in the kitchen, serving pans were loaded with food and sent out to the serving line with smooth efficiency.
“We’ve got it down to a science,” Gould said proudly.
Asked to remember how it all got started nine years ago, she recalled the inspiration from the church.
“We were talking with Ken White when he was here, he was the minister, about our kids are all getting grown up and going away and living their lives, so we talked to him and he had given a sermon about doing work for our community, and so we got together and we decided to do it,” she said.
An hour after the meal began, it began to wind down. The food, and the volunteers, both got rave reviews as people put on their coats.
Finally, the sisters and some of the volunteers were able to take the time to sit down and enjoy the food themselves. A sense of accomplishment seemed to permeate the air along with the food fragrances.
“We’ve just done it, we’re used to doing it. It’s something our family does,” Gould said. We’ve lost one sister, so now it’s Bonnie and I and her husband, spearheading it ... And we have a lot of volunteers that come to help.”
Some of the volunteers have been helping for years, but others are new, including one couple whose young children wanted to help out serving. Gould and St. Jean are grateful to all of them, and to everyone who made a donation in cash or in-kind.
“Thank you to the community.”