Thursday, November 28, 2013

My 2013 Thanksgiving Story

A lot of people have enjoyed the Thanksgiving holiday surrounded by family.  Since most of mine are either in the Scranton, Pennsylvania area or scattered throughout the US and Asia, we made a decision to just stay put this year and help others have a nice meal and get out of their homes and meet people.

I volunteered to work at a dinner sponsored by several churches and synagogues, and had an enormous amount of support from many of those EVVVVVIIIIL companies who donated money, food by the ton, delivery trucks, and volunteer employees to help in the kitchens. 

We started planning this a couple months ago, raised money, got a lot of companies like Kroger, Costco, Sam's Club, Wal-Mart and some smaller merchants to donate food.  We really had no idea how many people would show up.  We planned on dinner from 11am to 6pm or until the food ran out.  We were set up in the gym of the church to hold about 400 at a time.

After a while, we got requests from nursing homes and elderly assisted living homes for food to be delivered.  We considered this, made plans and agreed.  This thing just kept getting bigger.  As of Wednesday we had enough food for 4000 dinners, although desert would probably run out early.

I got asked to show up at the church kitchen at 8am to deliver bulk quantities of prepared food for the various homes.  I showed up around 7:45am to load up the box trucks loaned to us by an express delivery company based in Memphis, and people were already lined up outside in 15 degree temperatures for a dinner that wasn't going to open for hours.  Some looked very poor, and this is in the burbs, not the inner city.  We got the pastor to open the sanctuary and Sunday school rooms to get them out of the cold and they were offered coffee.

We went out and did out delivery runs, and they took almost 2 hours.  By 10am, the church was full and the only place for them was in the gym, which had been set up for dinner.

We could see this turning into an ugly free-for-all once the serving lines were opened, so we passed out tickets that somone wisely brought along, starting from the people in the sanctuary and the Sunday school rooms.  We told everyone we'd be serving by number and assured everyone that there was plenty of food, which their was.  There was some grumbling, but this worked out with a few jerks who had to be special.

Finally everything was ready to be served to the first 400 people, invited them to the gym, and then my real work started.  I was working on the food line dishing out food, and grabbing stuff from the kitchen to replace empty pans.  We had a great taskmistress (that sounds kinky, but she is a 75 year old Jewish woman who runs big meals all the time).  The rest was relatively easy, or at least methodical.  I though there was no way we would use up all the food that had been donated or bought by 6pm, but it was all gone by 3:30pm and deserts were gone by 1pm.

Some people just wanted to come out and have a meal because they were alone, but some families who showed up were really poor, and this might have been the only meal they had all day.  And this is in the suburbs, the affluent suburbs, not the inner city.

We are clearly becoming a much poorer nation with the high unemployment, people who have just given up hope on getting a real full time job, and the only change that they have gotten since 2008 has been the change in their pockets. 

Although helping people have a nice Thanksgiving dinner is gratifying to me, the need to have something of this magnitude says a lot more about the direction where this country is going.

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