BENNINGTON >> Hundreds of people county-wide were able to receive a hot Thanksgiving meal this week, thanks to dozens of volunteers from several organizations.
Helping out were churches, fraternal organizations, the county's "meals on wheels" program and even informal groups of people who just want to make a difference. It all added up, as over 1,000 turkey dinners with all the fixings were provided to people in need.
The Fraternal Order of the Eagles Aerie #1861 in Bennington continued it's decades-long tradition on Wednesday. Jimmy Cone of the Eagles said the dinners were put together by fewer than 20 volunteers when it started over 30 years ago. Today, there are between 50 and 60 volunteers.
"It's become a tradition for a lot of people, including families and high school students," Cone said.
Dozens of volunteers spent two days cooking turkeys, stuffing, mashed potatoes, butternut squash, green beans and desserts.
Cone said they cooked 55 cases of sliced turkey, each weighing 20 pounds, for a total of about 1,100 pounds.
In total, they delivered between 850 and 900 meals to people around the county, and 100 people ate at the Eagles hall, he said.
Eagles members and their families, church groups, high school athletics teams, state Rep. Mary Morrisey (R-Bennington 2-2), and at one point even a Banner reporter, pitched in to pack take-out containers full of piping hot dinners.
Jason Olansky of Pownal said he and his daughter Leah, 18, have been volunteering every year for about a decade.
Olansky, a volunteer firefighter with the Pownal Valley Fire Department, said half a dozen other members would meet him at the station to help deliver meals around town.
Leone Dusablon of the Eagles said she's been volunteering for close to 20 years.
"I think it's very important, because otherwise a lot of people wouldn't get a dinner," she said before she headed out to deliver a batch of meals. It's especially important for people off the beaten path in small towns, she said.
Also helping out was her nephew Brian Harrington, coach of the Mount Anthony Union High School women's basketball team.
Cone said sports teams and other local youth have become an integral part of the annual event.
"The night before, the kids come in and make all of the pies and the cranberry sauce," Cone said. "It nice to have youth involved. It gives them a sense of being part of the community."
Cone said his organization is very thankful for donations from local community groups and local businesses like grocery stores.
"It's about people helping people," Cone said.
At the Bennington County Meals on Wheels, located in the Bennington Senior Center at 124 Pleasant St., about 80 people dined in two dining areas while about 200 meals were delivered county wide, according to Executive Director Susan Fox.
"Some people are really stretched financially, and many have families that live far away and are very lonely," she said.
The event's purpose is two-fold, Fox said — Meals on Wheels aims at providing a hot, healthy homemade meal to people, in addition to a place to socialize.
The organization asks that attendees contribute $3.50 for the meal, but that's difficult for many on a fixed income, Fox said. A donation by the Bennington Rescue Squad covered the cost for this year's meal, she said.
Katie Vandale and Glennis Henderson, both with Bennington Rescue Squad, were upstairs helping to serve guests.
Both said they were enjoying seeing people from the community that they know. The non-profit organization provides paramedic services to the Bennington area, in addition to Woodford and Shaftsbury, and gives back to the community through various efforts throughout the year, they said.
"It's great for us to see them in a different light, instead of in an emergency situation," Vandale said.
A new tradition began Thursday at Olin's Offering, a storefront at 334 Pleasant St. Described by volunteers as a "grass-roots effort" to help people get a hot dinner during the cold months, a free meal was offered on Thanksgiving to anyone who wanted one.
"We wanted a place where people could get a hot meal to take home or eat here, and watch some football or just chat," said founder Brian Dempsey, Sr.
The group is named after Olin Scott, a Bennington-born industrialist, inventor and active community member.
Close to 20 volunteers helped fix turkey dinners with all the fixings, Dempsey said.
Deb Hewson spent part of her morning posting signs directing people to the storefront.
"There are a lot of people struggling," she said.
Homelessness is a problem that a lot of people overlook, she said. And it's tough for people who are homeless in an isolated, rural area — many are reluctant to ask for help, she said.
The first Thanksgiving at Olin's Offering was a learning experience of sorts, Hewson said, and they learned the importance of reaching out to those in need. They also have a better idea of other dinners and events that happen this week each year.
"It's good for people to have a choice," Hewson said. "They may connect with people at one spot, but not another."
Olin's Offering started last year with home cooks making hot meals for those in need on the last day of each month. This year, that's expanded to every other Thursday.
Anyone in need, or interested in learning basic cooking skills, can leave a message with the group at 802-780-0710.
Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979