Preparations are moving forward for Westport's 44th annual Thanksgiving Day Community Feast, a sharing of food, good cheer and gratitude again expected to draw hundreds to a downtown church hall on Thursday.

The feast is free and open to the public from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Christ & Holy Trinity Church, 75 Church Lane. Organizers are seeking more volunteers to help with set-up, cooking, serving and cleanup.

What is commonly viewed as the first Thanksgiving in 1621 brought together diverse people -- Pilgrims and Native Americans of the Wamapanoag tribe -- to celebrate the harvest. The four local houses of worship that sponsor the Westport feast said their goal, too, is to bring together a diverse, ecumenical group to share a meal and express thanks.

More than 350 meals were served at last year's event, organizers said. Diners included longtime residents and people new to town, families, single people, senior citizens and homeless people.

"The feast is a wonderful expression of community," its coordinator, Frank Basler, said in a news release. "The diversity of the guests who attend is extraordinary."

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THANKS FOR HELPING
Volunteers are needed for kitchen tasks, driving, set-up, cleanup and roasting turkeys in their homes. To volunteer, visit www.saugatuckchurch.org and click on the turkey.

The menu features classic Thanksgiving fare: roast turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, carrots, fresh fruit, rolls, pie and beverages.

The feast is funded entirely through donations of food by area merchants and volunteers who do the work. Although 160 volunteers have signed up this year, more are needed, organizers said.

Most shifts are one to two hours, and the greatest need is for kitchen help, organizers said. But drivers also are needed, along with people who can set up Wednesday and help clean up after the last bite of pie has been eaten Thursday afternoon.

Sponsors also need volunteers to roast turkeys in their homes and return them cooked to the church hall. Volunteers will pick up turkeys that have been sealed in roasting bags and have specific cooking instructions written by public-health officials. The birds don't leave the roasting bag until they are returned to the church.

Anyone interested in volunteering can visit www.saugatuckchurch.org and click on the turkey.

The feast is sponsored by Saugatuck Congregational Church, Temple Israel, the Unitarian Church in Westport and the United Methodist Church of Westport and Weston.

For many years it was hosted at Saugatuck Congregational Church, but was moved to Christ & Holy Trinity after a fire just days before Thanksgiving in 2011 heavily damaged that historic church.