Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Best Thanksgiving, Ever!

You know those parish volunteer opportunities when nobody shows up?  You know how you drag yourself through on behalf of the haggard chairperson who always seems to end the day in tears?  You know the volunteers who show up and refuse to do the dirty jobs, then leave early?  You know the dread you feel that you'll be asked to volunteer again, and you won't feel free to say 'no' because there are so few people to help in the first place?

This is the antidote; Thanksgiving Dinner for the poor and lonely at St. Peter Parish in Omaha, Nebraska.

On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving I was busy.  The house needed cleaning, I had to teach an extra class for students with a scheduling conflict, I made 10 pounds each of mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes, along with three quarts of gravy for my family celebration, and then had to take my son to help set up a dinner at our parish for the poor and lonely because it's required for Confirmation.  I was tired when we arrived at 6:15, and was ready to face the glum faces of a handful of overworked volunteers.

But that wasn't what we walked into.

The old school gym was a bustling hive of happy people working.  My son set out to join the crowd of boys he knows to set up the tables and chairs.  I walked into the kitchen and took the peeler and knives out of my purse, and joined the circles of potato peelers.  I sat next to Patricia the Potato Peeler, which is not her actual name.  She was impressively fast.  The conversation was light and pleasant.

When the potatoes were done, I joined Sally and John to steam table clothes.  Yes, the tables were set with clothes that were as wrinkle free as at any fine dining establishment.  The centerpieces were in place, the chandelier was hung, the take home bags with sandwiches and pie were prepared.

With so many helpers, maybe 100, the preparations were done very early in the evening.

The next day, we arrived after Mass to help serve.  I saw Cindy before Mass and asked if she needed me to come early.  She said 'no'.  I thought she was just being kind, but we stayed for Mass anyway.

When we walked in to the gym after Mass, the place was full of volunteers.  The organizers said they served 506 people.  They brought 170 name tags for volunteers, and ran out.  My husband's name tag was a piece of paper  attached to his suit with duct tape.

I went to the kitchen again, because that's where I like to be.  I ran food to the buffets.  There were two serving lines, servers offered one item only, including turkey, ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, corn and cranberry sauce.  After they sat down, servers offered coffee, lemonade, and water at their tables.  Other servers walked among the tables carrying trays or pushing carts with dessert options.  Many of the guests asked for extra plates to cover the left-overs to take home.

The men with their belongings in a backpack, the families with children who are new to the city and do not speak English yet, the elderly who had no family to care for them...  All were treated to service comparable to finest restaurants I ever worked at in college and beyond.

At noon, Cindy announced to those working the buffet and kitchen, like me, that she had other volunteers who needed work, and we should go home.  When does that ever happen?

I thanked Cindy, gathered my family, and went home.

I could talk of little else with my family later in the day.  I am so grateful for the chance to participate in that event.  It truly was the best Thanksgiving my family has ever had.

An update from Kevin and Cindy who organized the event:

Thank you to everyone that helped set up, baked pies, gave monetary donations and helped serve the Thanksgiving meal at St. Peters. We served over 500 plates! That included 2nds and volunteers that chose to eat. That is a record, we don't care to beat! There were many graces through out the day. Below is a letter we received from a guest at the meal. Also, there is a link to a TV video coverage of the event and pictures.  Be sure to visit St. Peters web site for more pictures to come! Thank you again for everyone's help! It was a true blessing to many of those less fortunate and those who helped.
Thank you for having a heart directed toward the poor,
May you have a blessed Advent,
Cindy and Kevin Engelkamp
St. Peter Catholic Church
Society of St. Vincent de Paul
Dear St. Peters,

I came to the Thanksgiving Dinner that I was told about. I have no income and was going to stay home with ramen noodles and spam.

That was the best meal I have had in a very long time.I sat in front where the singer/accordion player was. He was most excellent.  Good singer, funny and entertaining.  When I got home, my cheeks hurt from laughing so hard.  My stomach was so full, I had to take a nap.

Just want you all to know how much I appreciate all you done for me that special day.

I do have a Bible of my own. However, my eyesight is rapidly deteriorating and I can't see anymore.  Would it be possible to get a large print?  If so, I can volunteer my services to pay for it.

Again, thank you so much.

John K