BY JOE MAHONEY
The Daily Star
---- — “No one has ever become poor by giving.” — Anne Frank
In the same spirit that drew the Pilgrims together in New England to celebrate the harvest with a feast, a handful of people in Schoharie County got together a quarter century ago and organized a Thanksgiving gathering whose goal was simple: No one should be alone when it’s time to break bread.
Over the years, that event has mushroomed into an annual tradition that now attracts scores of people from local towns and villages. The dinner this year will be held at 1 p.m. Thursday at the Days Inn in Schoharie.
Last year, following devastating flooding driven by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, the event spawned an offshoot in the town of Blenheim. That event will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Blenheim Hose Company/Blenheim Town Hall on Route 30, North Blenheim.
Ethel Benninger, the former operator of the Old Tater Barn catering hall and restaurant, and Kevin Neary, now the Richmondville village mayor, have been mainstays of the Schoharie dinner since they and a few friends came up with the idea 25 years ago.
“It’s a community Thanksgiving dinner, all done with volunteers and funded by donations,” said Benninger, who now handles public relations for the Schoharie County Public Transportation system.
Said Neary: “When we first sat down and talked about doing this, we just thought it would be a nice thing to offer people in the community who would otherwise be alone.”
Students involved with the Cobleskill-Richmondville Central School’s Future Business Leaders of America group have become among the most active volunteers in making preparations for the dinner, he said.
“They help us with the takeout meals,” he said. “They’ve been really terrific.”
The feast will be blessed by the Rev. Bert Mayne, pastor of the Carlisle and Esperance United Presbyterian Church, who will also provide musical entertainment in the form of folk songs.
Mayne said he sees parallels between the resiliency shown by Schoharie County residents who endured last year’s disaster and the Pilgrims credited with staging the first Thanksgiving after setting up Plymouth Colony in what is now Massachusetts nearly 400 years ago.
“Putting things in perspective, there are always tough times and there are always good times, and when you look at Schoharie and what it’s been through, and the fact that people are getting together again a year after a disaster, reminds me an awful lot of the first Thanksgiving,” he said. “For the Pilgrims, the first year was just a year of wicked hardship. Almost every family lost some one. But they got together and gave thanks.”
The Schoharie community dinner will be held at 1 p.m. Thursday at the Days Inn and Suites in Schoharie, 160 Holiday Way. It is the location of the former Holiday Inn.
Takeout meals and home deliveries can also be arranged by contacting the Schoharie County Office for the Aging at 519-295-2001.
“We do the takeouts and home deliveries starting at about 11 a.m.,” Neary said.
One of the chefs at the Days Inn will be involved in preparing the donated turkeys for the event in Schoharie.
Benninger said approximately 150 people are expected for Schoharie’s sitdown dinner — which comes complete with all the trimmings.
Dozens more are expected to participate in the Blenheim community Thanksgiving dinner Saturday.