It's been awhile since I've been here. I'm sorry for that. It seems that life always steps in and takes me away from the things I want to do for things that MUST be done. This week many chores must be done in order to provide our community with a Thanksgiving Dinner fit for a king (or queen) on Thanksgiving Day. And I am always reminded of the things I am so thankful for. The list is long and I won't bore you with it, but you can be sure thatI am truly blessed.
Eight years ago my husband and I founded the Anaconda Community Thanksgiving Dinner. My husband, with great trepidation, asked me how we were going to pull off something so big. Something so huge - serving a whole community - was impossible for two people to do. Not to worry, I told him. We are not the only people in this community who are without family coming to share the holiday with us. They will come. He then said, with wide eyes, "How are we going to pay for it? We don't have this kind of money." Unworried I said, "The money will come. We live in an extremely generous community."
Just to give you a little history of our community. It was a company town, built around the smelter that smelted copper ore from the mines in Butte (a mining community 25 miles east of Anaconda). The smelter closed in the early 1980s when the bottom fell out of copper sales, and left a thriving community reeling and without any major industry to pick up the slack. People were unemployed and had to leave their homes to find work elsewhere in the country. We are still an economically depressed community with few jobs. Most people who live here work in Deer Lodge at the prison, Warm Springs or other institutions run by the State and in Butte. The demographics of the community is changing to one that is more of an aging population.
The people who live here are the most generous, kind and supportive people in the world. So I knew when the word got out about our plans, that support would come. And did it ever! We quickly had a core team to help with coordinating volunteers, meal deliveries, and rides. Donations poured in to help pay for the dinner. (It costs us about $2000 a year to put the meal on.) People called to volunteer to help work on Thanksgiving Day.
This community dinner is a little different than some. I wanted a place for people to come and be able to visit with neighbors, make new friends, share memories and just enjoy visiting with one another. A place that is non-judgemental. A place for EVERYONE in the community to come. The meal is free to all. We have greeters who greet folks as they come in and seat people at the tables. We try to seat folks with others they either don't see very often, or don't know. We deliver meals to those who are homebound, or just don't want to come out to the dinner. We offer rides to those who can't drive, or don't want to drive. And we have live music. People have a choice between turkey or ham and with the meat they get real mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, green beans, cranberry sauce and a roll. For dessert either pumpkin pie or apple pie with real whipped cream. It truly is a meal fit for a king (or queen)! And it's prepared with so much love and care. We serve close to 400 meals, and it seems to grow each year. And let me repeat this: the meal is FREE to everyone.
My oldest son comes from Helena each year, with his children, to cook. The kids have been coming since they were toddlers. At first they helped with setting tables and serving refreshments. Now they are older and moved up to taking dinner orders and serving the meals to the tables.
My greatest joy is watching the children, those from the community and my own, working this dinner each year. Many of them return year after year to help. Not because mom and dad make them, but because they WANT to. These children, and their families, give up the comfort of their home, the football game, and a family Thanksgiving dinner year after year to come and be of service to their community. What a wonderful thing to watch. Many of our volunteers return each year because they have so much fun helping to prepare the dinner and serving it.
And I get to hear the stories. Some are stories of heartbreak. Some are stories of hope. My delivery people will come back with money in hand and stories that people are giving their last $5 to donate for the dinner. We tell them the dinner is free, but they still give. Stories on how blessed they are to be able to have a real Thanksgiving dinner delivered to their doorstep. People who come each year telling us that it's so wonderful to have a place to come to share dinner and visit with others. People who are thankful for not having to be alone. People who are grateful for just being able to have food to eat.
As I reflect on the past eight years, I want to thank all those who come. The volunteers, the donors, the diners. I am so very thankful for you. You brighten my life and give me hope for humanity. You brighten our community and world. I am grateful that I have been blessed to be able to do this for our community. I don't do this for self-gratification, quite the contrary. I do this because it's the right thing to do. I do this because I love to brighten someone's day. I love to spread love and joy to all.
I think I have succeeded!
To all my friends and family - many, many blessings to you this Thanksgiving. May the gratitude of the season spread throughout your whole year! I love you.