BRATTLEBORO — The annual Thanksgiving Community Dinner is back at the Brattleboro Union High School and with some new faces behind the scenes in the kitchen on Wednesday, Nov. 24, at 11:30 a.m. [Editor's note: An editing error introduced the wrong day of the week in the print version of the newspaper this week. This date and day of the week is correct.]
Jaci Reynolds and a new group of community members have come together to make the annual Thanksgiving Community Dinner available to the community again.
“I've helped organize many community Thanksgiving dinners in Saugus, Mass., the area that I hail from. So when I moved to Brattleboro six years ago, I always thought about volunteering because there were some local people organizing a dinner,” Reynolds said.
Volunteers include Steve Perrin, Brandie Starr, Ali West, Zach Hebert, Christine Colascione, Stephanie Bonin, Ratana Minghella, and Kierra King.
Also volunteering are personnel from the Retreat Farm, Everyone Eats!, and Foodworks, as well as Cafe Services Inc., currently the program's largest funder.
BUHS agreed to be a venue for the dinner.
“Steve Perrin, the principal, is allowing us to use their facility, their kitchen, and their dining area,” Reynolds said. “So I'd love to publicly thank him for that, because he's got plenty going on. He could have said no, but he sure didn't.”
Reynolds said she wanted to find a way to host a dinner for the community. The Thanksgiving tradition started in the 1970s at the former Common Ground restaurant and later moved to the River Garden and St. Michael Catholic School.
The COVID-19 pandemic sabotaged the tradition last year, but Everyone Eats! picked up the slack with a takeout version.
Now that the food distribution program is winding down, a different way of delivering the holiday meal was needed to keep the community dinner going.
“We just really felt like we needed to step up and do it, as much as times are tight right now,” Reynolds said. “And it's very hard for people.”
“That maybe makes it harder to do, but that's more of a reason to do it,” she added.
As they did last year, Community Dinner organizers are planning to be as accommodating as possible to the community and individual circumstances.
“We're going to allow people to come pick up meals, and we're going to deliver some meals to different organizations,” Reynolds said.
Along with providing easy access to the food, the dinner will offer a menu that will feature a variety of foods.
“We are asking all the local farms for different vegetable donations,” Reynolds said. “We're trying to do just the standard turkey dinner, with mashed potatoes, butternut squash, whatever kind of greens, and stuffing. And then we'll do some gluten-free stuff.”
Turkeys are still needed for the meal. “We would love to be able to get turkeys from local farms, but we are way too late on that because we didn't even find out about this until a few weeks ago,” Reynolds said.
The effort still could use some volunteers, and donations to purchase food are also welcome. Reynolds said the dinner can't accept any private food donations “because we are doing this under a café services food license.”
She said she was excited about how many have stepped up to help, particularly students.
“When you start kids with volunteer opportunities like this, when they're young, it increases the chances that they're going to carry this altruistic vision with them throughout their life and continue to volunteer for things,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds doesn't know future plans, but she hopes to continue to help the community.
“I think that probably we will debrief after the holiday season and then start talking about what went well, what didn't, and then regroup after the holidays and see what's next.” Reynolds said. “Keep on signing up to volunteer and also help spread the word to your neighbors who might want to sign up for meals.”