People hungry for the bounty of a traditional Thanksgiving meal -- and, even more, a sense of community -- found it Thursday for the 42nd year at the Saugatuck Congregational Church's annual feast for the holiday.
The gathering, for a second year in a row, was hosted at Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church as the Saugatuck church remains closed in the aftermath of a fire that inflicted heavy damage just before last Thanksgiving.
The event featured turkey and trimmings prepared by a cadre of volunteers, music and a cornucopia of generous spirits. In addition to the main Saugatuck sponsors, the event was by the added support of Christ & Holy Trinity, Assumption Church, Greens Farms Congregational, St. Luke Church and Temple Israel.
"This has become a community feast," said the Rev. Alison Patton, Saugatuck's new minister. "My real hope and conviction is that that spirit will continue, even when we're able to host the feast again."
More than 100 volunteers started their day at 5 a.m., roasting 42 turkeys, slicing 80 pies and preparing over 1,000 pounds of vegetables. Many local businesses contributed goods and services, including Stop & Shop, Stew Leonard's, Brit Air, Panera Bread, Spotted Horse, Oscar's, SoNo Bakery, First County Bank and Newman's Own.
"It's so much fun," said Randy Christopherson, the feast chairman. "The real reward is just seeing all the smiles and how everyone just comes together."
"I've been coming here for 24 years," said Michael Newman, who volunteered with his son, Justin.
"Just to help out, feed people that aren't as fortunate," he said. "It's just a great way to spend the day."
People came to enjoy the event for different reasons, but it fundamentally served as a chance to bring a sense of community to their holiday celebration.
"My children live in Virginia and Pennsylvania, and they have to work tomorrow," said one woman from Fairfield. The dinner gave her the chance to socialize with some friends, who also came to participate. "It's a day of saying, `Thank you,' for our blessings," she said. "It means so much to me."
"I feel that it's a way to provide not just food for people," said Susie Benton of West Haven, who formerly chaired the event , "but also a place to be."
"We try to feed people's souls," she said.
"I have no immediate family here, so I'm alone on Thanksgiving," said Lily Rossen of Westport, who brought a donation.
Kimberly Andrews, youth minister for Christ & Holy Trinity, said it was a great opportunity for sharing among local religious communities.
"We don't do very much in this community that's truly a community effort," she said.
"It's the right thing to do," said John Cleary, a Christ & Holy Trinity sexton. "When people are in need, Saugatuck Church has been giving to the community, so we're just trying to help them out."
Blessing the first turkey, Patton said, "We give thanks for fingers that pluck and stuff and chop, prepared, bake and baste ... and for tongues that taste."
"I've done this for years," said volunteer Bill Meyer. "It's more than food ... I have a warm feeling for helping so many people enjoy a festive Thanksgiving."