Thanksgiving diners were back on Thursday although dinners hadn’t gone away.
Last year, members of Moose Lodge 1122 in Rutland delivered a holiday meal and prepared food that could be picked up and taken away. But on Thursday, Moose members were serving food to visitors at their Center Street lodge.
Eleanor Kalinowski, of Rutland, is a former volunteer at the event and Moose member, who comes to the lodge for her Thanksgiving meal every year. She said coming to the lodge “makes you feel at home.”
“When you’re alone, this is like an extended family. I’ve been a member going on 15, 16 years so far. … Especially on holidays, when people are alone, there’s no place to go. At least you can come here and have a beautiful dinner and make friends. More like family,” she said.
Craig Halley, past governor of the lodge, who had been preparing mashed potatoes and stuffing during the day, said there was a big difference in the response from last year to this year.
“The need in the community is greater this year, I believe, even then it was last year. People were shut in so we only did take out last year, we did no eat in whatsoever. The lodge was closed. I don’t know what the exact numbers are today but it significantly has increased. We prepared a few more turkeys than we did last year. We did 20 this year and it’s almost all gone,” he said around 1:30 p.m.
Halley said the expectation was to prepare 400 to 500 meals by the end of the day.
The appeal may have been more than the turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes. Peter Dayton, administrator of the lodge, pointed out the Moose Lodge’s annual holiday dinner was open to all.
“You come here and you have a meal. You hang out with other people. It’s getting together,” he said.
Melody McFarren, a member of the lodge, said she had spoken to the volunteers who made collectively more than 200 deliveries on Thursday.
“The people who are delivering the meals aren’t just dropping them at the door. They’re taking the time to visit with those who don’t have families and share a few thoughts about Thanksgiving. That’s very special for the people who aren’t able to get out and come and join the experience here at the Moose Lodge,” she said.
David Brewer, a past governor at the lodge who has a Pilgrim degree for the Moose, has been part of the event for more than 20 years.
He was one of the members making deliveries on Thursday and said one of the most rewarding parts of the day was the appreciation from residents when they get a hot Thanksgiving meal brought to them.
“I had two people cry on me today. So thankful. Telling me to tell all the kitchen staff and whoever prepared and did the work, give them a big thank you,” he said.
Brewer said he coordinates the deliveries, using his experience with the event to prevent volunteers from passing each other on redundant routes, but noted he “got nervous” with only five drivers this year when the event usually has 15 people willing to help out.
“We did some scurrying today to get it done and it worked out pretty good. I was surprised,” he said, noting the volunteers delivered more than 200 meals.
There were about 25 to 30 volunteers helping on Thursday. Juliana Maniery, a Moose member, said the work on preparing the meal began on Wednesday.
Maniery’s participation was part of a family contribution to a community Thanksgiving for Rutlanders as her husband, Dan Maniery, was also in the building. He is commander of American Legion Post 31 which made a contribution to the Moose event. Dayton said the Moose Lodge, American Legion Post and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 648 had a history of working together on community events.
Thursday was different for another reason for longtime Moose members who had been part of Thanksgiving for an extended period. For about 20 years, Mike Burke, of Fair Haven, had been the chief organizer of the event but last year, he said he was stepping down, citing health concerns.
In April, Burke died from lung cancer.
But his son, Jarred Hayes, 22, was at the club helping out. He said he had been volunteering to help the Moose Lodge provide Thanksgiving since he was 7.
“I think (staying involved) is important to our family. It’s what he would have wanted for someone to take – Not his position because I’m not running it – but to take a big leadership step into Thanksgiving and to help as much as someone could,” he said.
Hayes said it was “sometimes surreal” to carry on his father’s work and making it his own tradition.
Halley has picked up the leadership role and said Burke had been his inspiration. Robert Paquette, also a member, said he had also learned a lot from Burke’s time leading the community event.
Brenda and Tom Temple were chatting around a table on Thursday. Tom Temple is a member but Brenda, his wife, said she believed it was her first Thanksgiving dinner at the lodge.
She said she liked running into so many friends at the event.
“(The best part is) the cameraderie of the city. I see people that I haven’t seen in quite a while. You stay at home, it’s strictly family. You don’t see other people that you care about and love. Coming here, you get to share that experience of Thanksgiving Day with extended family and other people that you know in Rutland City. That’s the beauty of it and it’s beautiful that the Moose can do this,” he said.