OLEAN — For the past couple of decades, people who are needy or alone have found food, fellowship and thankfulness at the Community Thanksgiving Dinner at St. Stephens Episcopal Church at 109 S. Barry St.
The event is co-sponsored by the Greater Olean Association of Churches.
This year’s Thanksgiving Day dinner, slated to be held 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the church, with take-out meals included, is preparing to serve as many as 1,000 meals, said Rev. Kim Rossi of St. Stephen’s. And as may be expected, volunteers are needed.
Rossi noted that the dinner started out years ago as an in-house affair at the church, serving approximately 200 people.
“Today, this has grown substantially to what we think will be 1,000 meals,” Rossi said on Friday. “We love providing this service to the community — it allows us to meet so many interesting and dedicated people in the Olean and surrounding areas.”
Rossi noted that as the community dinner has become so large, with hundreds of take-outs delivered to area residents, there are a number of people who take responsibility for a variety of things that need to be done.
“The Thanksgiving Dinner has simply grown into such large numbers that it is too much for one person or couple,” Rossi continued. “We coordinate the various areas by having meetings and making sure that each person or group has all the help that they need to get things done.”
She said that during last year’s dinner, when 865 dinners were served, they ran out of food. Rossi said this was the impetus for ordering more food this year.
“We serve about 300 at the church and the rest go out for delivery or are pick-ups” she continued. “We will be ordering our food this coming Monday and will begin preparation for the meal on Monday, Nov. 25. We have preparation activities on Tuesday, Nov. 26 and Wednesday, Nov. 27 and need volunteers on Thanksgiving Day.”
Rossi noted the church has already had a number of people call in for take-out meals and for the delivery of meals.
Because of the magnitude of the event, Rossi said volunteers, and any amount of time provided, are essential to ensure its success.
“Last year we had some folks come to volunteer and we had finished up for the day,” she recalled. “Most often, the greatest need is for volunteers to deliver meals, but again, please give us a call so that we can organize volunteer drivers in the areas where meals are going. We deliver meals to the Meals on Wheels folks and to senior living facilities such as Aspen Towers.”
Rossi said she would guess there “some tired people at the end of the dinner and deliveries, but there isn’t one person I have heard from who hasn’t loved the experience.
“Many times, the delivery folks and their helpers tell stories of the many people who thank them and let them know they are the only people they will see that day who say ‘Happy Thanksgiving.’”
Longtime volunteers at the dinners are Olean residents Scott Kruse, his wife, Kimberly, and sons, Alex and Zach.
“I think we’ve been doing this for at least six years,” Kruse said of the volunteering. “I get there early in the morning to help with the cooking or whatever, and the rest of the crew gets there about 9:30.”
He and his family work at the dinner until approximately 3 p.m. before going home for their own activities. He noted his mother-in-law and father-in-law, who live in Chaffee, also help as volunteers.
“It’s absolutely worth it,” he added. “We provide a service out there that the community needs. It’s Thanksgiving Day and there’s no place in town that is feeding people who can’t feed themselves.
“It’s important for people to do community service,” he concluded. “I would want somebody to do it for me.”
Rossi said those who would like to volunteer should call the church at 372-5628 to let the staff now when they are available. Those who would like to order a meal are also asked to call the church at the same number by Nov. 22. If the phone isn’t answered, leave a message that includes a name, address, the number of meals needed as well as a phone number.
Rossi said donations of some foods, including sweet breads, pre-packaged cookies and fruit pies such as apple, blueberry, cherry and peach are welcome. Pumpkin pies and custard pies cannot be accepted due to health code regulations.
(Contact reporter Kate Day Sager at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter, @OTHKate)