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Serving neighbors in the year of upheaval

Annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner at River Garden is open to all

BRATTLEBORO—This year, Thanksgiving — a day for gratitude — might come as a bitter and sweet holiday in the midst of economic crunching, fire, shootings, and floods.

For people wanting to share their holiday, or who need a free meal, the Brattleboro Community Annual Thanksgiving Dinner will provide respite from the year of upheaval Thursday, Nov. 24 at the River Garden on Main Street.

The volunteer-run, donations-based effort has hosted the open and free Thanksgiving dinner for over 30 years.

In past years, between 500 and 700 people have sat down to a community-cooked meal of turkey, roasted root vegetables, gravy, ham, mashed Gilfeather turnips, garlic potatoes, apple crisp, and pies.

According to committee members, vegetarian entrees are also on offer.

“It’s been a funny year for Brattleboro,” said Lindsay Cobb, an organizational committee member of seven years.

Cobb said he volunteers for the Thanksgiving Dinner “because it’s a wonderful thing to do for the community.”

He works hard all day and “feels as happy as can be,” he said.

Cobb said that the dinner may fill a dual purpose of economics and fellowship this year in the wake of the on-going credit crunch, April’s Brooks House Fire, the summer shootings in Dummerston and Brattleboro, and Tropical Storm Irene and its catastrophic flooding.

In addition to people are feeling the pinch economically, he said, Irene’s floods also displaced community members.

At the home stretch

According to Cobb, the organizing committee and volunteers have reached the “home stretch,” picking up donations and preparing for Thursday.

The Community Thanksgiving Dinner comes together through an ocean of donations navigated by a flotilla of volunteers. According to Cobb, the food donations came from grocery store vouchers, directly from food companies, local farmers, and shops. Funding has also included cash donations from local companies and individuals.

Donations proved a “little tougher” to gather this year, he said.

But even farmers flooded by Irene, like Harlow Farm in Westminster and Basin Farm in Bellows Falls managed to donate vegetables, Cobb said.

Volunteers cook the multitude of turkeys, potatoes, and fixings in their private kitchens for delivery to this year’s staging area at the Brattleboro Masonic Lodge No. 102 next to the Post Office on Main Street.

Cobb said the dinner has met its need for volunteers but wants everyone to know “all are welcome” on Nov. 24.

The dinner is served buffet style.

“It’s a whole big family get-together,” Cobb said, adding that musicians will entertain diners.

“It’s organized chaos,” joked committee member Ray Branagan during last year’s dinner.

Every year, Branagan wonders if enough diners will sit down and eat the food, and then, halfway through the meal, he worries that there won’t be enough to feed everyone.

“It’s awesome. There’s lots of people. It’s nice, especially when you don’t have a family to go to,” said returning diner Abby Banks last year.

Cobb and his wife Michele started attending and volunteering with the Community Thanksgiving Dinner when it still took place at the former Common Ground restaurant on Elliot Street. They have since “dragged” their kids and foster children to volunteer with them.

The kids volunteer at the dessert table and “they get into it,” he said.

The organizing committee always welcomes people who would like to help with clean-up duties starting after 5 p.m.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #128 (Wednesday, November 23, 2011).

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