Hosting a takeout Thanksgiving meal for the community is the new main course in these pandemic times.
To avoid a large gathering that could spread COVID-19, St. Barnabas Episcopal Church and Grace’s Kitchen handed out about 350 to-go and delivered meals for the annual communal feast.
“Thanksgiving is such a day of connection, we had to honor it,” said St. Barnabas Pastor Doug Bleyle. “The community wanted it to go on. Keeping up the tradition is important and helps to maintain some normalcy and familiarity.”
Each person received a large to-go platter filled with steaming turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, rolls, stuffing and vegetables. There were to-go sides of pies and desserts as well.
There was no indoor dining because of pandemic restrictions limiting gatherings. Volunteers wore masks, and a limited amount of volunteers were allowed to work inside the church putting meals together.
Over the past month, more than 50 volunteers helped to prepare for the event, said organizer Victoria Atkins.
Inside the church, a well-organized assembly line created hundreds of individual to-go meals at an impressive pace. Youths and adults hustled about boxing up pies, packaging rolls, filling platters and putting together boxes for delivery.
“We’re still one big family in this community. This year, we’re just more spread out for the Thanksgiving meal,” Atkins said. “There’s a lot of anxiety and fear nowadays, but this day lifts our spirits, gives us hope and optimism.”
Community members getting the meals said they adjusted Thanksgiving plans because of the pandemic, and were thankful the event was held.
“It feels safer this way,” said Rita King, of Towaoc, who picked up a few meals. She usually has a big family dinner, but this year it was just her and her two sons.
“I’ll miss seeing all the grandchildren, but I’m keeping them in my prayers,” King said.
Thanks to the mild weather, friends sat together on nearby steps and benches to enjoy their to-go meals.
Jaye Jones usually cooks up a big Thanksgiving dinner for a lot of guests. “This year, my neighbor and I will enjoy this meal together. I’m grateful they still put the event on, they made it work.”
Runners brought stacks of hot to-go meals to the church patio, where they were handed out to the people standing in line. There were 210 preordered meals, but it was not required. Walk-ups were welcomed, and the assembly line was keeping up with demand.
Seven delivery drivers drove 35 orders to homes in Cortez, Dolores, Mancos and Dove Creek.
Cooking the food was a team effort between St. Barnabas and Hope’s Kitchen at First United Methodist Church.
The culinary Snyder family and volunteers led the cooking effort for the 25 turkeys, stuffing, 17 gallons of gravy and 360 rolls at the St. Barnabas commercial kitchen. Dozens of pies filled several tables, and were divided up into individual servings.
Over at Hope’s Kitchen – another local commercial soup kitchen at First United Methodist Church – volunteers mashed 300 pounds of potatoes.
The potatoes were locally grown and provided by the Farm Fresh Cooperative, said Hope’s Kitchen director Pat Downey.
A difference this year “was keeping everyone safe” from COVID, said cook Chris Snyder. They adjusted volunteer preparation efforts to smaller gatherings, and required masks, and social distancing. The extended family came in early to bake the fresh rolls and bread and to heat up the main courses.
“The sausage stuffing with onions, celery and spices is a working man’s meal in itself,” Snyder said. “We enjoy cooking serving together as a family, and have a lot to be thankful for. Gratitude is a primary ingredient of happiness.”
Boxes of to-go containers lined the walls at St. Barnabas, an added expense for soup kitchens around the country forced to switch to takeout service.
Donations, grants, and local farms help keep both soup kitchens going, organizers said.
“It seems like a good time for a donation,” said Cap Allen, as he walked up to St. Barnabas church and donated two $100 bills toward the event.