Volunteers serve food prepared for the annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner at the Robert H. Gibson River Garden in Brattleboro. (Zachary P.
Volunteers serve food prepared for the annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner at the Robert H. Gibson River Garden in Brattleboro. (Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer0
Friday November 23, 2012

BRATTLEBORO -- People who didn't know each other sat down and enjoyed a Thanksgiving meal together.

"This pumpkin pie is awesome," one older woman told another.

She was referring to the dessert portion of the annual Brattleboro Thanksgiving community dinner at the Robert H. Gibson River Garden on Main Street.

The meal started at noon and was over by 5 p.m. Volunteers helped clean up until at about 7 p.m..

Ray Branagan organizes the event and works with food warehouses and companies who make donations to the dinner.

"The gratitude I get when it's all over," he said when asked why he does it. "It brings me back to the next year."

He thought by 1 p.m. there were about 35-40 turkeys, 200 pounds of potatoes and 80 gallons of cider. Pies were also donated by various people.

Those who didn't sign up could still come down and donate whatever they'd like, so numbers were difficult to completely determine.

After worker-owned, cooperative restaurant, The Common Ground closed down about 10 years ago, Branagan and the others have worked hard to continue this Thanksgiving tradition, which has been going on in Brattleboro for more than four decades.

Volunteers could reach up to 100, between Wednesday and Thursday, Branagan said.

On Wednesday, volunteers prepared foods. On Thursday, there were just as many volunteers bringing the food from the Brattleboro Masonic Lodge across the street, which acts as the "control center," according to Branagan.


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People also helped to clean up both sites.

"What makes me volunteer is what makes anyone volunteer," said Jesse Schultz, of Hinsdale, N.H..

This was Schultz' fifth year volunteering. He mostly worked on making the gravy. Last year, he had carved the turkey.

Schultz had been walking back to the Masonic Lodge after delivering food to the River Garden. He was working with Ian Bigelow, volunteer cook, before he was sent to deliver more food. "There's no recipes," said Bigelow. "We're just guess-timating."

In the past, the community dinner has run out of food like mashed potatoes because of the high turnout and fan favorites.

Kevin Sadler, who had just moved to Brattleboro from the seacoast of New Hampshire and works for C & S Wholesale in Keene, N.H., had heard of the dinner through people who were talking about it on the street.

He decided to walk down to the River Garden and check it out.

"This is my first year," he said. "The food's fantastic and it's great to see my neighbors' faces."

His favorite part was the garlic mashed potatoes.

Approximately 85 meals-on-wheels were delivered by volunteers, led by Peter Wiles, to citizens who couldn't make it down to the River Garden.

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or cmays@reformer.com