Family of Woodstock’s annual Community Thanksgiving Day dinner, which runs for free from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday, November 22 at the Mescal Hornbeck Community Center, 56 Rock City Road, got its start during this nation’s bicentennial 42 years ago.
“Initially, I believe it was at people’s private homes, but then it settled in for a long spell upstairs at Christ Lutheran, which also hosts the town’s soup kitchen,” noted longtime Family volunteer and former program director Susan Goldman, who’s coordinated the event’s publicity in recent years. “I don’t remember attending the dinner until 1980, and for the longest time it would draw 150 people tops…until there were lines out front and we decided to move it to the Community Center so we could accommodate everyone.”
The format’s never changed much: the food’s standard Thanksgiving fare of turkey and “fixins;” volunteers help with the cooking, set-up, serving, and cleanup. Local musicians get up and play; kids make decorations. Meals are available for pick-up, or delivered to those who are homebound. Like Halloween and Santa’s arrival Christmas Eve, the autumn event’s come to define the town’s sense of community. Over the years, all Woodstockers either attend or volunteer to help out in some way.
“Suddenly the dinner’s attendance jumped to 300 people, and then settled in at around 400 from 9/11 on,” Goldman continued. “Last year it took a particularly big jump to 600.”
What was the cause? A greater need for community following the nation’s dark political shifts? Goldman didn’t want to conjecture.
She, like many who’ve aged with the town over the past 30, 40, 50 years or more, stopped attending regularly because of family obligations.
“We’d go to the Family dinner then race out to make it to a family dinner with the kids and grandparents elsewhere,” she recalled. “I found I couldn’t do it anymore, and yet it’s still the big meal our kids think of when they think of Thanksgiving.”
Has Family been able to keep up with the sudden attendance shifts upward? No problem, Goldman says; there’s always been enough food. Structurally, things started falling into place once Chester Pertchick began volunteering as an event organizer and committees not only fell into place, but kept up with their tasks year in and year out. The key, at this late minute, is making sure people show for the final push to prepare take-out dinners and deliveries after the sittings stop at 4 p.m.… and clean up.
Of course, she added, there was that Thanksgiving, a couple of years back, when the whole event was moved to the Overlook Methodist Church in Bearsville because the Community Center was under renovation…and there was a massive ice storm the day before Thanksgiving.
“We couldn’t get in their driveway because of the ice,” Goldman said. “We ended up running everything out of the Family hotline building making plates to go. We ran everything okay, but we never want that to repeat!”
Everyone at Family’s particularly proud of their collaboration in recent years with Zero to Go, an education-based waste management company that focuses on composting and recycling that helped last year’s clean-up to end up with only three bags of trash. This year that amount will be even less following a successful community-wide “Knife, Fork, and Spoon Drive” that’s resulted in enough silverware to handle a crowd of 800.
As for ways to help out now…donations of freshly prepared foods delivered hot on Thanksgiving morning (including turkeys…and those who can cook them) are still needed, along with anyone willing to help set up, serve and clean up, as well as drivers who can pick up donations on Wednesday from the many area restaurants, food stores, and bakeries that contribute to the dinner each year. Or deliver meals on Thanksgiving itself. Just call Family at 845-679-2485.
If unable to get to the dinner, requests for take home packages can also be made by calling ahead.
“This really is Woodstock at its best,” Goldman said, after expressing relief that instead of announcing the Dinner herself on local radio stations, Simi Stone handled the honors last year, while John Sebastian’s been doing it this time around. “It really is a community celebration.”