MONTPELIER — It was a “blowout” by all accounts at the 47th annual Washington County Youth Service Bureau’s Thanksgiving feast at the Bethany Church in the Capital City on Thursday.
Officials involved in the event said they believed they had broken all previous records for the numbers of people served, including inside the church and deliveries to people at home in the area, likely to exceed 800 in all.
Last year, the event served 716 people — 360 guests at the sit-down dinner and 356 deliveries.
The annual ritual 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 65 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, pies and cookies.
Christine Hartman, the office manager at WCYSB, has been a volunteer at the event for the past seven years and the event coordinator for five years.
“I believe this year we’re going to surpass the numbers of people we fed than we’ve ever had before,” Hartman said. “We’ve already sent over 400 deliveries from the (nearby) Unitarian Church (where volunteer drivers pick up meals to deliver).
“For this meal (in the church), we actually had to break out a couple of extra tables, which I’ve never had to do before, because we had such a crowd come at the beginning of the day. We also had so many deliveries, we almost ran out of pie before the meal even started, which I’ve never seen before either, but we went to Shaw’s (supermarket) and Shaw’s made a generous donation and gave us some more pie, and we bought a few, and then some more (donated) pies started to trickle in, as always happens,” she added.
Hartman said 92 people signed up to bake pies and there was additional help this year with community members bringing cooked turkeys to the church.
“We were lucky with the turkey cooking this year with a bunch of staff from VSECU who cooked turkeys for us, and we had turkey cookers from the Central Vermont Career Center and from Montpelier High School, which was really helpful,” Hartman said. “The community response was wonderful with people who have been cooking turkeys for us for years and bringing them in.
“I’ll bet we’ve served 400 people here (in the church), just based on how many people came in early, and this year, I think we delivered 402 meals,” she added.
Hartman said donations from people who were served would go into the youth service bureau’s Boys & Girls Club unrestricted fund to support additional programs and events.
Hartman said serving hors d’oeuvres and refreshments at the start of the meal helped to make the event fell like a family gathering.
“I like to think of this as a family community, and I’m really proud to be able to do all the little bits and pieces that make it special versus just saying, ‘Here’s the turkey and potato,’” Hartman said.
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.
“We served over 400 meals, delivered this morning, and for the first time in my recollection, we had to set up extra tables because we had every chair filled and a line still out the door,” Pinkham said. “It’s been a very heavy turnout today, and we’re filled up with volunteers that have come out to help. I think the thing that’s really great about this event is that it really feels like a full community. We’ve got people coming in, grabbing whatever seat is available, meeting new people, being part of a community, sitting at communal tables.”
Volunteer servers included Anna Farber, of Montpelier, a sophomore at U-32 Middle and High School.
“This is my fourth year volunteering,” Farber said. “I think this is one of the best years so far. I’ve come back so many times and people are really sweet. The more people, the happier I feel because I’m helping so much.”
Also serving was Cassidy Holland, 10, of Barre Town, who was wearing a crown and a sash declaring her Miss Vermont Elementary. She explained that it is the first year the national contest has been, held and she will travel to Little Rock, Arkansas, for the finals in June.
There were also plenty of regulars at the event, including Vikki Lane, of Montpelier.
“I come every year for the stuffing, the mashed potatoes and the gravy. ... I’m not a turkey person, but I do eat it, too,” Lane said. “Here, you meet everybody, catch up on all the gossip, and it’s a great tradition, especially for single people. The greater community is your family, it’s a wonderful city, and we might as well celebrate it.”
Elly Marshall, of Montpelier, said she was attending the event for the second year and was quickly making new friends.
“We’re having a nice time, Marshall said. “The best thing is community ... and I really thank them for bringing us together.”
One table was taken up by a family of five — Alicia Glover, Kyle Green and their three children, Nova, 12, Adrius, 5, and Elefaun, 16 months — that recently moved from Hawaii to Vermont, hoping to farm and farmstead.
“We just moved to Montpelier from Hawaii, and we don’t have any family here, so I was really happy to find out there was a community meal,” Glover said. “It saves work, and it’s appropriate for Thanksgiving. It felt a little lonely to do Thanksgiving by ourselves so this is really nice.”
Taking stock as the event began to wrap up, Hartman seemed content with the outcome.
“We actually ended up with some food left over, although earlier in the day, I was concerned that we might run out, but we didn’t,” Hartman said. “I have a feeling it’s going to be higher numbers than ever before.
“I love a blowout,” she added, with laughter.