A traditional Thanksgiving feast will be on the menu at Loaves and Fishes today, complete with turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes, vegetables, bread and homemade pie, courtesy of members of St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church.
Providing the Thanksgiving meal is a yearly tradition for the folks at St. Patrick’s — one they look forward to preparing and serving.
Loaves and Fishes serves free lunches, open to the public, every Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Parish Hall on Lewis Street. All of the meals are nutritious, delicious and filling, but Thanksgiving is truly special.
It takes a steady group of workers to prepare enough turkey to feed nearly 400 people. The work began on Wednesday in the large, industrial-sized kitchen at Centerpoint, where about 30 people met to cook and slice the turkeys and prepare the ingredients for the dressing and side dishes.
“There were lots of onions to be peeled and chopped, so we brought plenty of tissues to wipe our eyes,” joked Fr. Doug Neel, rector of St. Patrick’s. “But it is amazing how much we can get done in a short amount of time as we work and laugh together.”
The cooking continued this morning as the final touches were put on the meal.
Loaves and Fishes works like a well-oiled machine. At around 9 a.m., workers arrive at the Parish Hall to set up tables. Once tables are put in their proper places, each table is given a tablecloth, condiments, a bread basket, a pitcher of water, silverware and napkins. Servers are assigned a table, dessert table servers are slicing pies and placing them on serving carts, and others are in charge of busing tables. A greeter is stationed at the door.
The kitchen is a swarm of activity, but runs smoothly and efficiently. Three people are stationed at the serving window to fill plates with food, while others keep the food hot and replenished, wash dishes and provide to-go boxes.
In the parish hall, the drink station has a volunteer making sure the coffee pots are full; tea, lemonade and hot chocolate are prepared; and the cups are replenished. There is a separate table for used dishes to be scraped and prepared for the dishwashers.
“I love working for Loaves and Fishes,” said one St. Patrick’s parishioner. “We stay very busy, but the joy comes in the service. Over the years, I have gotten to know the names of many of the people who come each week. These people are like an extended family. There is something truly holy about providing food and hospitality, and the satisfaction I derive from serving makes it all worthwhile.”
Loaves and Fishes of Archuleta County, a 501(c)3 organization, is run by an executive board, but the workers come from organizations and individuals across the county.
“We could not feed hundreds of people a free meal each week without our wonderful volunteers,” said president Nancy Crouse. “They are truly the heart and soul of our organization. Their dedication to feeding the hungry and to serving the community inspires me every day. We are always looking for more volunteers to help. Anyone who is interested in being a part of this amazing community of volunteers is welcome to drop by the Parish Hall on any Thursday, enjoy a free meal, and talk to one of our board members.”