As a winter storm brewed outside, hundreds of community members enjoyed a warm Thanksgiving dinner with a side of good company at the cozy dining hall of the St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Cortez.
“We do this every year because it is so important that no one is alone on this special day or misses out on the traditional meal,” said coordinator Victoria Atkins.
Plates of roasted turkey ladened with gravy and all the classic fixings were handed out to people as they shed their coats and scarves to settle in for a celebration of gratitude, fellowship and good food.
Live piano music played, and plenty of coffee and pie was served up for desert. More than 300 meals had been served by 1:15 p.m., an increase from last year, said a volunteer. Some 35 volunteers were on hand, serving meals, cooking, doing dishes, and delivering to-go meals to the homebound.
“It’s a real blessing that they provide this meal, and I am deeply grateful,” said Nelson of Cortez. “The people here are so nice, and the food is excellent.”
A line of talkative, upbeat residents formed outside, and as people left, more were let in.
“We don’t have family nearby. My wife and I came to socialize and enjoy a good meal, then go home and watch football,” said Mike Tulio. “It’s nice to not have to do all that cooking.”
It is the time of year to be reflective, added one man in line named Jerry.
“Having this nice meal, I think about how the year went, and how to make the next year better,” he said. “This is really good for the community, food is the way to the heart.”
The orderly system kept the line moving, and the wait was not too long. Kitchen volunteers served up plate after plate of hot food, and dessert runners took orders for pie and drinks.
“The food is really good, and it is nice to see the variety of community people,” said Judy Wolfe.
“Everybody is so friendly, and the kids made these creative cards with holiday messages written in them,” added Mike Duncan.
Donations of food and funds were key to its success.
“It shows the community cares. You have to give to put something like this together,” said Lenna Johnson, who brought in canned goods. “The number of volunteers is amazing.”
The age range of volunteers is nice to see as well, said one volunteer. Helpers ranged from young students to the elderly.
On Thanksgiving morning, cooks put together final recipes, including 25 roasted and deboned turkeys, 400 freshly made rolls and 7 gallons of gravy. On a long table, more than 50 homemade pies had been set out.
“We have teams of cooks and enough food to feed an army,” said cook Chris Snyder. “All the dishes are specially prepared with extra care.”
For example, the stuffing included roasted onions and apples, and the green beans were mixed with bacon and onions.
He volunteers with family members in the kitchen. When they saw the store-bought rolls last year, they decided to bake the homemade rolls from now on.
Volunteers also delivered about 60 meals to homebound residents and their caretakers, and to Hospice patients.
“This event brings everyone together,” says church administrator Annie Seder. “It’s an opportunity for newcomers in the community to meet people, it’s open to those passing through, it’s for locals and people who don’t have family nearby.”
The reaction the homebound have when a Thanksgiving meal is delivered to them is heartwarming, Atkins said.
“One elderly gal living alone invited us in so she could play some songs on the piano for us; a disabled veteran living alone was close to tears,” she said.
Grace’s Kitchen, a ministry of St. Barnabas, serves free meals twice per week, year-round, to any one who needs it, she said. On the other three days, free meals are served up by Hope’s Kitchen run by the Cortez Methodist Church. Both soup kitchens rely on donations.
Seder said Grace’s is especially thankful for the donations and the fresh produce brought in by local gardeners.
“This year, we saw much more donated fruits, eggs and vegetables, and it has significantly helped lower our costs per meal,” she said.
Together, Grace and Hope’s Kitchen serve an estimated 25,000 meals per year.