The Community Meals Network of churches and organizations that monthly prepare free community meals at their locations for anyone who needs or wants to attend a healthy meal with some heartwarming socializing, put on a Thanksgiving dinner last week.
The members of the Community Meals Network include: Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration, Etz Hayim Synagogue, First Parish Church, St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, Salvation Army, Seventh Day Adventist Church, Sonshine Soup Kitchen, West Running Brook Middle School, and the newest member of the network, St. Jude Parish Community.
Mimi Cagle of the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration in Derry served as the general organizer of this year’s effort.
“We served about 80 people, a surprisingly similar number to last year,” she said. “I had thought there might be fewer this time around, since the weather was fine and everyone had power at home.”
The volunteers had lots of food, and by sharing the work, got everything prepared and ready to serve. They prepared 10 turkeys, 50 pounds of mashed potatoes, 10 half-trays of stuffing, 20 pounds of squash, and six trays of green bean casserole. They had enough pies to be able to give away several as door prizes, along with cakes, hand-made scarves and hats, and holiday decorative items.
“The leftovers,” Cagle said, “went to The Granite House: Men’s Sober Living & Halfway House, and to the Derry Fire Department. This year, a volunteer took food waste for compost, reducing our trash output significantly.”
The food contribution and preparation was a community-wide project. All the turkeys and potatoes came from the New Hampshire Food Bank, procured by Dot Flannery of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. She cooked two of the turkeys and provided the tablecloths, extra onions, and butter.
Transfiguration volunteers cooked three turkeys and the potatoes. St. Jude volunteers provided two turkeys, along with cups, sweeteners, coffee, stirrers, and coolers for lemonade and iced tea. St. Luke’s volunteers provided the stuffing, and Etz Hayim volunteers provided the squash and green peas, a cooked turkey, cranberry sauce, plates, napkins, utensils, and some decorations.
First Parish Church volunteers cooked two turkeys, and the Salvation Army provided the green bean casserole, lemonade and iced tea. West Running Brook provided centerpiece decorations and gravy. Pies, both store-bought and home-made, came in mostly from individuals who belong to the member organizations.
Cagle couldn’t say enough about the volunteers and their efforts and contributions.
“Volunteers – oh, goodness, too many to count,” she said. “ Special thanks go to Penny Williams and the Nutfield News for publicizing our effort, thereby giving many of our volunteers the idea to contact us. Special thanks to Richard Donovan of Derry Psychotherapy Services for his help both the day before and on the day of the Feast. Tom McManus and family of Benchmark Office Systems in Londonderry helped on both days and we are thankful for Tom’s welcome expertise in the kitchen. Thanks to Paula Young, whose church is not affiliated with the Network but who decided along with some other individual members to support us, and Steve Soreff of Etz Hayim for being our comedic door prize announcer for the second year in a row.
“Rabbi Peter Levy and his wife, Amy, deserve our thanks for leading us in song and for giving the Thanksgiving blessing,” Cagle continued. “Thanks also to Panera of Derry for breads and pastries, and to Hannaford of Derry for a tremendous donation of breads and cakes, and for their support of our meals programs – not just at Thanksgiving but throughout the year. Thanks also go to Wendy’s of Derry, who provided the to-go containers and for their support of our meals programs throughout the year, as well as McDonald’s of Derry, who when asked at the last possible minute for a donation of salad bowls and butter pats, came through with a smile. Thanks especially to their manager for making that happen and to the Granite House for providing so many wonderful volunteers for the second year in a row. Their presence made the post-meal cleanup a breeze.”
Planning, organizing, and making such a big undertaking happen seamlessly isn’t easy but about eight people met with Cagle at Transfiguration the day before the meal, cooking turkeys, peeling and cooking potatoes.
“I couldn’t even say how many volunteers made the food from the other organizations,” Cagle said. “On Thanksgiving Day, we had at least 20 people help with set-up, another dozen taking shifts in the serving line, maybe a half-dozen working in and out of the kitchen, and another dozen at least for cleanup. It all went smoothly.”
The Thanksgiving Dinner is an extension of the monthly free Community Network meals that are prepared and served by the network member institutions for anyone in the community. The meals are designed to fill a need for those who need a meal when the Sonshine Soup Kitchen or other outreach efforts and the food pantries are closed.
The meals are also an opportunity for those who need the companionship of others or who just enjoy sharing a meal with friends and having the opportunity to meet new friends to do so.