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This year, a community Thanksgiving via drive-thru

Despite social distance and quarantine, Everyone Eats wants community to retain the abundance of giving and receiving

All residents of Brattleboro, Guilford, Dummerston, Putney, and Vernon are invited to participate in the Everyone Eats! Thanksgiving Dinner distribution. Meals include gluten free, vegan, and vegetarian options. People picking up on site do not need to sign up. Community members who would like to request home delivery should go to www.brattleboro.com/everyoneeats and fill out the delivery form.

BRATTLEBORO—Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic has changed how many households gather and celebrate.

As the holiday season approaches, and with the state’s new re-tightening of rules forbidding nonessential travel into the state, more households will scale down their traditional gatherings to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

This year’s Brattleboro Annual Community Thanksgiving will change accordingly, with the cancellation of this year’s sit-down congregate meal.

Instead, the Brattleboro-based Everyone Eats! site for free drive-through meals will distribute Thanksgiving meals to residents of Brattleboro, Guilford, Dummerston, Vernon, and Putney.

On Wednesday, Nov. 25, anyone living in those towns can pick up both dinner for that night and, for the next day, a full Thanksgiving dinner — with all the sides and enough for leftovers — at the C. F. Church Building, 80 Flat St., from 4 to 6 p.m.

“We all have a role to play in keeping those [COVID-19 infection] numbers low. And so I just think it’s worth the mention that making sure that our community Thanksgiving is being done in a different way is playing a role in that,” said Stephanie Bonin, the Everyone Eats! program director for the Brattleboro Hub and executive director for the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance.

For more than 40 years, the Brattleboro Annual Community Thanksgiving, an all-volunteer hosted gathering, has served as many as 500 meals but has provided more than food. It has also supplied a social outlet to people in town without friends or family in the area, or who prefer the camaraderie of a community meal.

This Thanksgiving, with gatherings limited to 10 people, the community meal won’t happen — at least not as people know it.

Empty seats at the table

Bonin noted that with the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 increasing in the United States, the community needed to acknowledge that it also would also have to celebrate Thanksgiving differently this year.

“And for a lot of us, we will have empty seats at the table,” she said. “And there is no solution to that.”

And while the community might not be coming together, “that doesn’t mean we don’t have to have abundance at our table, and that abundance can come in the form of food,” she added. “And that abundance can come in the form of giving. And that abundance can come in the form of feeling that love from another form of your family, which is your community.”

The program has contracted for 1,000 meals from local restaurants. Funding for the meals is coming through SEVCA (Southeastern Vermont Community Action), which manages funding for the statewide Vermont Everyone Eats! program.

The desserts that will accompany the meals at the Brattleboro site are funded by Brattleboro Savings & Loan.

Bonin said the group of organizations collaborating on the food program wanted to ensure that people would have enough food in light of the economic needs created by COVID-19 and the income pressures many households faced even prior to the pandemic.

A hunger for community connection

Nearly eight months into the pandemic, the organizers not only understood the need for a Thanksgiving dinner from the perspective of people being hungry and short on food. They also felt people’s need for community.

“I think that is often the case, when it comes to food,” Bonin said. “It’s not just about hunger, it’s about other things, like sitting next to someone, being in company, feeling connection — all of those things.”

She said she saw this desire to connect with others in an outpouring of people wanting to volunteer to help the Thanksgiving Day distribution.

The Local Love Brigade will supply heartfelt postcards with the meals, Bonin added.

“So that that can also be part of their giving,” she added. “They’re receiving a meal, and then they’re also going to be asked a prompting question of giving hope to our community, and how did they personally find hope.”

Bonin said her wish for the postcard prompts is that they will foster a “holistic feel” in the community as people receive food. She hopes that meal recipients will also feel close to their neighbors, even without sitting next to them.

Community members wanting to volunteer with the project can sign up at the United Way of Windham County’s volunteer page, unitedwaywindham.org/volunteer-1, said Zach Hebert, the Vermont Foodbank’s gleaning and community outreach coordinator for the southern region of the state.

Hebert added that donating to the annual Project Feed the Thousands fundraiser is also a direct way to give back to the community and support the local charitable food system.

“Because COVID-19 is having such a big impact on when and how folks can physically volunteer, anyone who normally would like to [volunteer] and has the financial means to help support feeding our community can do that through the Project Feed the Thousands website as well,” Hebert said.

Last year, Project Feed the Thousands raised almost $95,000 and collected enough non-perishable food items comparable to 332,000 meals.

More breathing room

Struggling with hunger or economic insecurity saps people’s ability to give, he said. Receiving money through 3SquaresVT can help give households more breathing room.

Hebert also reminded community members experiencing food insecurity to sign up for the financial supplemental program, 3SquaresVT. More information can be found at dcf.vermont.gov/benefits/3SquaresVT.

“Oftentimes, their capacity to give can only be expanded when they receive,” Hebert said. “And so, helping people get to that point where they can take a breath, get out from under the water, and have an opportunity to give in ways that they didn’t have time or the means for before is so important.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #587 (Wednesday, November 11, 2020). This story appeared on page A1.

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