(In today’s post we’ll look at two notable Thanksgiving gestures.)
Guess who’s coming to dinner . . .
Back when I was bartending at The Lark Tavern, I also volunteered one overnight a week at Refer Switchboard — a 24-hour hotline/crisis center in Albany, NY.
Refer was part of Project Equinox, a larger non-profit community organization that my sister Kathy helped create. I’ve always thought that one of Refer’s and Equinox’s finest efforts was the free Thanksgiving dinner they’d prepare every year for our low income, homebound, or homeless neighbors.
By the time I moved to Albany and began at Refer, they were already serving 500 people at The First Presbyterian Church, and delivering more than 1500 Thanksgiving meals to the elderly and shut-ins.
Equinox and The First Presbyterian Church still serve the annual dinner– but now the number of Thanksgiving meals they serve and deliver is 9,500.
That’s right . . . for Thanksgiving this year 9,500 meals will be cooked, packaged and delivered to really some appreciative folks.
It’s a mind-boggling operation.
Here’s an idea of some of what they prepare:
10,400 pounds of turkey
2,000 pounds of ham
2,800 pounds of yams
8,500 dinner rolls
19,500 pieces of fruit.
Nine thousand, five hundred meals . . .
Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of volunteers now work under the direction of professional chefs who donate their time. This army of workers peel mountains of potatoes, shred truckfuls of carrots, baste countless pans of turkeys.
The project has become so large that they can no longer cook in the kitchen at the church. The Empire State Plaza donates its restaurant facilities, and the volunteers start on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. With each volunteer working as little as a 2-4 hour shift, group after group of hundreds of people continue working on through Thursday morning.
Once the food is prepared, it has to be packaged for delivery. Drivers have to be organized, delivery addresses have to be collated, and all the maps and GPS’s are pulled out. And then there’s the clean-up.
It’s an incredible effort.
Check out this video and you’ll see volunteers stirring giant, four-foot-wide caldrons of gravy. You’ll see longs rows of tables with volunteers lined up on either side, packaging the dinners, sorting them by delivery neighborhood, and then helping the roughly 1000 volunteer drivers load the food into their cars.
Maybe I’m prejudiced because my sister is one of the people who started all this, but I think it’s a wonderful Thanksgiving gesture.
If you’re in the Albany area, it’s not too late to donate or volunteer (click here for details.) And afterward you can head to The Lark Tavern to relax.
Restaurants offer free Thanksgiving meals to Hurricane Sandy victims (and others) . . .
Years ago at The Sunflower Café in Harvard Square, owner Lenny Levenson came to us just before Thanksgiving with a proposal. Any of the staff who would still be in the area were invited to work a free Thanksgiving dinner at The Sunflower.
Apparently this had been a tradition at the Levenson’s family restaurant in NYC, and Lenny wanted to continue it now at his own place.
A free dinner would be served to anyone who walked in . . . college students stranded here during Thanksgiving break, people who simply had nowhere else to go, or had no one to share the holiday with, . . . older neighbors living on limited incomes, and even the homeless who panhandled in the Square.
Every dining room table was filled for several turns of “customers”, and at the end of the day Lenny gave each wait person enough cash out of his own pocket to make up for what they hadn’t made in tips.
Serving free food to the less fortunate is something of a tradition in many restaurants across the country. This year — following the devastation of Hurricane Sandy — the list of contributing establishments continues to grow.
Below is a limited sampling of some of the restaurants and chefs making the extra effort. (And then back next week with more bar stories.)
The Food Network’s “Extreme Chef”, Terry French, Egg Harbor Township NJ
Swingbelly’s BBQ, Long Beach NY
Fireside Saloon, Lindhurst NY
Hartigan’s Grille, Englishtown NJ
Salt Gastropub, Byram NY
Queen City Restaurant, Reading PA
OpenTable, New York NY
Via Napoli Pizzeria & Restaurant, Lanoka Harbor NJ
Seabreeze Catering and Deli, Spring Lake Heights NJ
Ma Duke’s, Danvers MA
Patty’s Place, Canandaigua NY
Blue Willow Café, Wausau WI
Theo & Stacy’s Restaurant, Kalamazoo MI
Jac Cekola’s Pizza, Portage MI
Calamari’s Squid Row, Erie PA
Sisters Gourmet Bistro, Van Buren AR
Samantha’s House of Pancakes, Angola IN
Novak’s Hungarian Restaurant, Albany NY
Cafe Gratitude, Santa Cruz CA
Apple Barrel, Bixby OK
La Casa Garcia, Anaheim CA
Richard’s Restaurant, Moberly MO
Paradise Grille, North East MD
Original Cottage Inn, Ann Arbor MI
The Iron Monkey, Jersey City NJ
Pops Restaurant, Milford CT
Siggy’s Restaurant, Murrieta CA
Anokha’s Cuisine of India, Novato CA
Bierstube Steakhouse and Grille, White Bear Lake MN
Distractions Food and Drink, St Michael MN
Ristorante Don Giovanni, Mountain View CA
Our Place Bar and Grill, Decatur TN
The Family Buffet, East Dundee IL
Old Town Cafe, Bellingham WA
Pocketstones Cafe, BigFork MT