MONTPELIER — A hearty meal and community warmth were the perfect antidote to frigid weather on Thanksgiving in the Capital City on Thursday.
More than 300 people were expected to attend the 46th annual Washington County Youth Service Bureau’s Thanksgiving feast at the Bethany Church. More than 350 meals were also home-delivered by volunteers organized by the Unitarian Church across the street.
The annual ritual first began at Christ Church before moving to Bethany Church to accommodate larger crowds. The event is supported by an army of volunteers working in shifts through the day, with all of the food donated, including dozens of home-baked apple and pumpkin pies that were brought to the church on the day. There was no charge for the meal but donations were welcomed to support the activities of the WCYSB’s Boys & Girls Club.
Volunteers arrived at 6:30 a.m. to start cooking 60 turkeys, 300 pounds of squash and 200 pounds of potatoes, as well as all the side trimmings. There were also hors d’oeuvres, hot cider, coffee, juices and cookies.
Kreig Pinkham, executive director of WCYSB, said he was happy to welcome the community and grateful to volunteers who staffed the event and made home deliveries of meals to local residents who were alone, unable to venture out or cook for themselves.
“I think we’re full, and we had hundreds of meals delivered before 10 o’clock,” Pinkham said. “As you can see, there’s not many empty seats here.
“Even on a cold day like today, people long for community, and I think this event provides that. I think if you’re a community service agency, you have to do things like this,” he added.
Christine Hartman, the office manager at WCYSB, has been a volunteer at the event for the past six years and the event coordinator for four years.
“It’s been going good,” said Hartman as she supervised a bustling kitchen. “We had a smoke alarm go off, but it just gets really active in here and things get on the burners, but if that’s the worst thing that happens all day, I’m all set.”
“We had a lot of volunteers which was great and I’m just hoping they’ll show up for the last shift which is the clean-up. We had already delivered 350 meals out into the community. I think that it’s just such a community-bonding experience,” she added.
Hartman said the event was symbolic of a strong community that celebrates its own and supports those in need.
“We have people from all walks of life who come here for the meal — people who are totally down on their luck and then people who are fine but just want some company,” Hartman said. “We get donations from big places like National Life and from small businesses like Global Gifts and the Capital Kitchen, and places like that.”
“Soliciting for any event is always a challenge but for this event, it’s no challenge because everyone wants to help and give back to the community,” she added.
Andrew Whitney, of Montpelier, said he was happy to be able to enjoy a meal on a day when he also had to work.
“I work in a profession where I don’t get to have the day off,” Whitney said. “I work at Walmart and they’re open today. I work from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. because we go straight through until tomorrow.”
Sue Hummerding and her husband, Brian Laing, of Rochester, Minnesota, were in town visiting their daughter, Sadie Laing, who is a community service coordinator with AmeriCorp’s Vermont Youth Development Corps, working at Maplehill School & Community Farm in Plainfield.
“We were just saying this was better than we could have done because we’re in an Airbnb and don’t really have access to cooking facilities and my daughter is in a one-room apartment, so this is a godsend,” Hummerding said. “Sadie baked 10 apple pies.”
“I serve at a school, so I baked them with the students,” Sadie Laing explained.
“I just love that something like this exists for such a wide variety of people who could use a meal like this,” Laing continued.
“I came last year and it’s really amazing to see the diversity of people that show. There are families with young children, senior citizens and people from all over. I’m really happy to be here with my parents here today,” she added.
Server Alex Arnold returned to work as a volunteer at the event again this year.
“I’ve done this for 4 or 5 years,” Arnold said. “I like feeling useful and helping those who don’t have a family or the resources to celebrate Thanksgiving, especially at this time of year. It’s the beginning of winter, and we need to think about those who are less fortunate.”
Guests were also treated to doggy bags to take leftovers home.