A Tale of Thanks Giving

img_5765

A few days before Thanksgiving, a friend of mine posted on Facebook that food and volunteers were needed for a massive feast being served for free on Thanksgiving Day for anyone in need—the homeless, the struggling, the folks who lost their homes to Hurricane Matthew and have no where to cook or gather.

I called the event organizer and volunteered to bring a dish and help serve or wipe down tables, or pick up trash or whatever was needed. I decided to bring a deli-style macaroni salad that didn’t need to be reheated to be enjoyed.

On Wednesday, in between clients, I went grocery shopping for supplies. That evening, before and after dinner with friends, I boiled macaroni and chopped fresh celery, peppers, parsley and a summer sausage, made the dressing and tossed it all together before I went to bed. (Everyone knows these things taste better if they “meld” overnight!)

The set-up started at 7 am! On a holiday!! I had promised to arrive by 10:30 to help with any last-minute preparations and deliver my big tray of food, as the luncheon was scheduled to begin at 11:00. A friend gave me a ride to the site—a greenspace downtown that had been borrowed with permission from the school board—so that I wouldn’t have to lug a giant, heavy aluminum foil tray across town from public parking.

Here’s what I found when I arrived:

A dozen or more tables and chairs set up under the trees—all covered with Thanksgiving themed tablecloths with a basket of bread or crackers in the center—and rows and rows of folding chairs beyond the tables.

Musicians and sound system ready to entertain.

Serving tables under tents LOADED with food, with holders and sterno warmers and tray after tray after tray of hot food—turkeys and hams and all the sides, and more sides, and breads and baked goods like pies and brownies and cookies—and even more food stored on tables behind the main serving tables. And helpers lined up behind the serving tables, with gloved hands and smiling faces. I recognized some serial volunteers I had seen at other events in our community—cultural events sponsored by Romanza, for example, or fund raisers for cancer. We have many kind-hearted, service-minded people in our town!

At first there were more helpers than there were people wanting to partake. The main event organizer thanked everyone for coming, a minister said grace, and then the few people who were there to eat lined up peacefully and started through the line.

Soon more people came. Many went through the line twice—once to eat then and there, and once to take something home to eat later or to share with someone unable to make it. Volunteers had brought blankets and socks and bags of canned goods that people could take with them as needed.

One woman shared her story with me as she came through the line. She had lost everything except some clothes to Hurricane Matthew. She couldn’t find a place to rent, so she was staying in a hotel that had cost her $3,000 so far—which she could ill afford. She had to give up her beloved dog. It was overwhelming. She looked drained and said she was just fixing a plate to take with her to work. She said at times she felt like just giving up. I asked if I could give her a hug, and she accepted. I encouraged her don’t give up—hang in there, it will get better! I hoped I was telling her the truth; that things really would get better for her.

As I looked out over the grateful feasters, it occurred to me that many of these people would not be sitting together at a shared table under any other circumstance. How nice, I thought, that people could find common ground and maybe even make a new friend in the face of tragedy and hardship.

I had a long talk with one of the event organizers, who looked exhausted yet shared the pride he felt in working at the commercial kitchen at the St. Francis house, cooking, slicing and shredding turkey after turkey, and ham after ham. I saw the other main event organizer dabbing at her eyes a lot as she thanked volunteer after volunteer for coming, for bringing food to share, for helping.

It had seemed at first like there was SO much food, but just before noon, I noticed that the first round was being depleted, and the stock from behind the serving table was being pulled forward. “I don’t know if they’re going to be able to serve until 2:00 as planned,” I was thinking to myself. And just then, just exactly as I was having that thought, a van pulled up and a woman wearing oven mitts walked up to the tents with two big trays of food and asked, “Where can I set these? They’re super hot!” And the stock was at least partially replenished.

Two things (at least!) struck me about this particular feast. First, it took just two weeks to pull it together! And volunteers came from all over town, like me, just wanting to help. People focusing on others rather than their own Thanksgiving meal. What a great community we live in! It really was kind of unbelievable how much food was prepared, how many tables and chairs and food warmers were somehow collected and employed, how many were willing to give of their time and talents on a holiday, on short notice.

The other thing that struck me is how the event organizers just sort of put an idea out into the universe, and trusted. It really was pretty loose in a pot-luck sort of way—whoever could bring food brought food, and whoever needed to eat showed up to eat, and it all just sort of worked itself out. No one micro-managed. When I arrived at 10:30, people were adding to the serving tables on the fly—put main course here, side dish there, we need one more volunteer to serve water/tea over there. It was controlled chaos, a lot of “we don’t know where to set this, we might need one more table here,” and… poof! Another folding table appeared.

It was nothing short of a miracle. A generous, glorious, selfless miracle. Even the weather was picture-perfect. And remember—there were live musicians serenading people as they worked and ate! It couldn’t have been more pleasant.

I left before it was over. But I am truly thankful to have been a part of it, to have witnessed the very best in people. People willing to give, and people willing to receive. People happy to hang out with folks they probably wouldn’t have had an opportunity to hang out with ordinarily.

But this was no ordinary day. It was an extraordinary day set aside to appreciate our abundance—of food, kindness, gratitude and fellowship.

 

img_5777

Category : Blog &Events &Personal Growth Posted on November 29, 2016

Leave a Reply