By Denise Richardson
The Daily Star
---- — ONEONTA — Days of cooking and preparations yielded fare for more than 640 meals, a record number served at the Community Thanksgiving dinner at the Elks Club on Thursday.
Alana Shaw, a guest from Davenport, applauded the dinner and volunteers who presented the event.
“They are so willing — such a willingness to serve others,” Shaw said. “It just touches me.”
Guests and volunteers were from throughout Otsego County and beyond. Several diners said they appreciated the opportunity to attend a community event during a holiday when relatives or friends were traveling or lived too far away to visit.
“I don’t have any family close by,” Lisa Jenkins of Otego said Thursday after spending her third time at the community dinner. “It was great, as always.”
In the area, free community dinners for the holiday were planned in Delhi, Schoharie and Walton. Organizers weren’t available Thursday afternoon to comment on these events.
At the Oneonta Elks Club, organizers said 328 sit-down meals, plus 315 meals for take-out or delivery, were served, and three trays of food were provided for the Lord’s Table, a local feeding program. More than 100 volunteers helped with a range of tasks, they said.
Volunteers cooked 24 birds and eight turkey breasts for a total of 528 pounds of turkey, organizer Mary Ann Hartmann said. In recent years, the dinner has provided an average of 500 meals, she said.
Besides turkey, stuffing, potatoes and gravy, the menu included coleslaw, cranberry sauce, fruit and pies, including 30 baked by students from Saxton Hall at Hartwick College in Oneonta. Beverages included milk, cranberry juice, cider, coffee and tea.
The dinner is sponsored by St. Mary’s Church in Oneonta and the Lord’s Table. When St. Mary’s Church was undergoing construction, Hartmann said, the dinner was moved three years ago to the Elks Club, which she said has provided a tremendous contribution in space, money and staffing toward the event’s success.
Hartmann of West Oneonta and Mary Southern of Otego are retiring after 14 years as Community Thanksgiving organizers. Chris Carpenter of Franklin and Judy McMullen of New Lisbon were working beside the veteran volunteers Thursday in preparation for taking over as coordinators next year.
Douglas Hamilton, a five-time volunteer from Schenevus, said when the doors opened at 12:30 p.m. Thursday the scene was “organized chaos.’’ But the organizers successfully directed diners to serving stations, he said.
“It was like clockwork,’’ Sue Beams, a volunteer from Oneonta, chimed in. The two volunteers, who were eating together toward the 2:30 p.m. closing time, said they had performed a variety of tasks such as making coleslaw or cutting pies.
“If there is a void, you’ve just go to jump in and do it,’’ Hamilton said.
Sara Benedict-Augustine, 10, of Oneonta, didn’t hesitate to fill in where needed or to change jobs. She served guests on the buffet line, pushed a cart with beverages and cleared dishes from tables and took them into the kitchen.
The experience was a first time as a volunteer at the Community Thanksgiving, said Sara, who wore an apron, and she appreciated the opportunity.
“It was good to help others,’’ she said. “It was fun.’’