It was a warm day on Thanksgiving, which made it a good day to be out. In fact, all of November has been comfortably warm, with no snow and few, if any, days below freezing, although the nights are cool. Whether this is due to the ongoing climate changes or whether it has simply been a mild month is impossible to say, but many here were quite grateful for both the lack of snow and the above-freezing temperatures.
Happily, there were several choices on Thanksgiving for those of us who are residentially-challenged. Both in Barre as well as Montpelier, there were free community Thanksgiving dinners available for the needy. I attended the dinner provided by the Bethany United Church of Christ in Montpelier. The Bethany Church provides a daily lunch on Tuesday to the community which I regularly attend, so I am quite familiar with the people who normally attend. In fact, I go to all the free community lunches which various Churches provide during the week, and am long familiar with those who, like myself, prevail upon the charity of others to feed ourselves. So, although the atmosphere was more festive than usual, it was a familiar experience being there.
I will say that I was surprised at the turnout. There were many families and individuals who I hadn’t seen before at any of the free lunches. The entire hall was filled with tables and the entire hall was packed with people eating at those tables. There were clearly several hundreds of people who came, enjoyed dinner, and left during the hour and a half that I was there. This spoke to me about the economy in Central Vermont, and how the harsh economic times influence what people find they have to do.
During the Holiday Season, both on Thanksgiving and on Christmas, I usually find myself somewhat depressed. This is common, I believe, with those of us who are distanced from family environments. The nature of those Holidays, both in image as well as fact, centers around the family, with the passage of time which marks such Holidays in the panoply of yearly events being balanced against the ongoing continuity of the family, with elders reminding us of Holidays past, and children reminding us of the future which they will inherit. This creates a private sense of blessing which is replicated over and over in homes across America. When one is homeless, this blessing is something that falls outside of personal experience, which only amplifies the depression caused by those of us who are already dealing with difficult or unfortunate family situations.
Therefore, I was surprised at the large turnout at the free dinner. It makes sense that many would have chosen to create a festive family event in their own homes rather than be out in public, but were unable to do so. I can only attribute this to the difficult economic conditions that we are passing through. It was with a mixed sense of sadness and gratitude that I viewed those around me having their Holiday repast. That they were able to have a Holiday dinner was a very good thing, but that they had to do so under the auspices of charity was something which, I believe, many found added a melancholy thread of emotion to their day. Still, there was food to be had, and one must survive as best as one can, and a full belly creates a good mood.
And I must say that Bethany Church outdid itself with the quality and amount of food available. It was absolutely delicious from beginning to end. There was cranberry bread, crackers with various cheeses, fresh turkey, mashed potatoes, mashed squash, stuffing, gravy, and various pies all laid out in abundance with milk, cider, juice and coffee to drink. Everything was fresh-cooked and home-made with no trace of commercial preparation. The place-mats at the tables were hand-done by children from the various schools and were decorated with messages. This in particular was quite touching.