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Jaci Reynolds and Kieran King, with some help from a group of volunteers, prepare 850 Thanksgiving meals in the kitchen of Brattleboro Area Middle School, in Brattleboro, Vt., on Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021.

BRATTLEBORO — Community Thanksgiving happened a little differently than planned but organizers say meal recipients and volunteers expressed gratitude for the experience nonetheless.

Due to high COVID-19 numbers, the dine-in option at Wednesday’s meal wasn’t offered. That was all right with organizer Jaci Reynolds of Brattleboro because only three people signed up to eat inside ahead of time anyways.

“The community spoke,” she said inside the kitchen at Brattleboro Area Middle School.

For three days at the school, Reynolds and Kiera King of Brattleboro worked with volunteers to get meals ready. They estimated about 1,000 people would be fed from the effort, about 200 more than Reynolds initially anticipated.

Volunteers helped prepare food, deliver meals to homes and clean up. Meals included turkey or tofu. and vegetables based on availability.

Reynolds said before this week, she never worked with volunteers who would say, “Put me anywhere.” People embraced “non-glamorous jobs” such as peeling potatoes, she said.

The original plan was to deliver meals to Everyone Eats, which would get the food to organizations, but organizers asked organizations to pick them up last minute to ease the stress. Everyone Eats, a program providing meals to those experiencing challenges due to COVID-19, helped coordinate the Thanksgiving effort.

“Everyone’s been cool as we course correct,” Reynolds said. “Everyone who helped out did exactly enough.”

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Reynolds, who serves on the Windham Southeast School District Board and owns The Pit Mistress BBQ, started planning Community Thanksgiving with others when she found out no one was planning to hold the annual event for a second year in a row. Before the pandemic, the dinner had been held Thanksgiving day in different downtown locations since 1972.

King recounted a story from a volunteer who delivered a meal to a woman: The two struck up a half-hour conversation then the woman said the company meant more to her than the meal and she ended up giving the meal to a neighbor.

Support for this year’s event came from Cafe Services, Retreat Farm, Vermont Foodbank, Foodworks and United Way of Windham County.

Commonwealth Dairy donated a lot of yogurt. Stephen Dotson, sustainability coordinator for the town of Brattleboro, said he brought some to Groundworks Collaborative.

Reynolds said volunteers must be getting tired because they were laughing at her jokes.

“That never happens,” she said.

Reynolds said she would volunteer to run the meal next year if King agrees to assist again.

“She was the wind beneath my wings,” Reynolds said.

King said, “I feel like we’re a good team.”

“That’s the other thing I got out of it: a new best friend,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds said she’s looking forward to not cooking on Thanksgiving day and spending time with her toddler.