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Volunteers plan for another Brattleboro Community Thanksgiving Dinner

BRATTLEBORO—The Brattleboro Community Thanksgiving Dinner committee issues its annual invitation to, well, everyone.

Since its first dinner 41 years ago at the former Common Ground restaurant on Elliot Street, the Community Thanksgiving Dinner has opened its doors and filled the stomachs of diners from Brattleboro, students staying through the holiday break, and even travelers just passing through town — free.

According to member Ray Branagan, the Community Thanksgiving Dinner committee fell apart briefly after the Common Ground closed, but the current committee has been together nine years.

The all-volunteer brigade of cooks, servers, runners, drivers, and dishwashers prepare, serve, and clean up a Thanksgiving dinner that feeds an estimated 500 people.

This year’s meal will be served at the River Garden on Thanksgiving Day — Thursday, Nov. 22 — from noon to 5 p.m.

The committee also arranges to deliver meals to homebound community members.

“It’s 2{1/2} weeks away,” said committee member Lindsay Cobb at a recent planning meeting.

“You’re just a killjoy,” Peter Wiles, who coordinates meal drivers, responded, laughing.

The goal of the committee, which has been meeting since September, has always been to provide the best Thanksgiving that it can, said Katherine Barratt, treasurer.

This year, members hope more musicians will volunteer to perform during the five-hour meal service. Music “just goes with a Thanksgiving buffet,” Barratt said.

Music slows people down, Wiles added.

Last year’s Community Thanksgiving landed on the heels of upheaval with the Brooks House Fire, fatal shootings at the Brattleboro Food Co-op and in Dummerston, and Tropical Storm Irene.

“Every dinner is a success in its own way,” said Barratt. The dinner is a chance “to celebrate the community, whether we’ve had a disaster or not.”

Cobb joked that after Tuesday’s general election, people might change their views about gratitude.

“No politics at Thanksgiving,” replied Barratt.

Barratt said the committee never asks for donations from diners. If people want to donate they can. Any cash raised goes toward the following year’s expenses.

Last year, she said, farmers felt the heat from a tight economy and Irene’s devastation. The committee used its small bank account to pay farmers, who normally donated produce.

Thanks to the Experienced Goods thrift store, the committee now owns a dinner service of plates, mugs, silverware, and dessert dishes large enough to feed 150 people, said Barratt. This donation saves the committee from renting dinnerware.

Barratt said her volunteer work with the committee brings her pride, though it’s a lot of work. “The gratitude I get when I’m doing it [volunteering] brings me around to the next year,” she said.

Wiles said that the drivers who deliver meals always return with stories of gratitude.

“That’s something else,” he said.

For Cobb, who can take or leave Thanksgiving at home, the meal brings a sense of doing something for his community.

The committee has started calling on its regular volunteers to sign up, and more are needed, including volunteers for clean up. Wiles said he needs drivers.

Volunteers who sign up early get first pick of duties.

Can’t volunteer? Not a problem, said the committee.

Just come and eat.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #177 (Wednesday, November 7, 2012).

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