Togetherness keeps Thanksgiving tradition alive at Saugatuck church

WESTPORT — The near 50-year tradition of Saugatuck Congregational Church’s community Thanksgiving feast was nearly broken last year, but a group of volunteers and residents ensured it survived.

One year later, the event has continued to grow beyond the church’s walls to capture the feeling of the Thanksgiving holiday — togetherness. On Thanksgiving Day, Saugatuck Congregational Church will serve over a hundred people at its 49th Thanksgiving Community Feast from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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“One of the things I remember every year when I walk in on Thanksgiving Day is that there is a community that has been formed around the Thanksgiving feast,” the Rev. Alison Buttrick Patton said.

People who have volunteered for decades, residents and out-of-towners alike have gathered every year for the tradition. The feast which has brought families, friends and more together also coincides with the church’s mission.

“One of the things of which we’re very proud is that Saugatuck thinks of itself as a church with wide open doors,” Patton said.

This mission and the historic tradition’s significance to the town became even more crucial in 2018, when Patton thought she would have to cancel the event.

Over the years, the church had found difficulty in finding someone to run the feast. But when representatives of Homes with Hope, Westport’s Human Services Department and the Senior Center got wind of this, they quickly stepped in.

“They came to us and said this is an important event to the community and we want to make it happen,” Button recalled.

From there, the church was connected with Dan Levinson and Monique Bosch, of Main Street Resources, who coordinated last year’s event and has returned to help this year.

“We found out it was a 40-year-plus tradition for Westport and thought it would be such a shame for it to end,” Bosch said.

In addition to Main Street Resources, OntheMarc Catering took over preparing the meals and a community of volunteers turned out to help.

“We put up a request for volunteers and it was filled within a week. We had 80-plus volunteers. That was the same this year,” Bosch said. “ ... We learned the beauty and simplicity of taking a tradition and empowering those that are making that tradition continue. By doing that every individual, every small piece, comes together and makes us all feel a part of something beautiful.”

Irene Syomichev, a Saugatuck church member who has volunteered at the feast with her family for the past three years, echoed these sentiments.

“It used to be a Saugatuck congregation initiative, but in the last two years it’s become even more because the whole community is involved,” Syomichev said. “For my family volunteering it’s important because I want to teach my kids the importance of giving back to the community.”

The event, now driven by the community, has built its own. Patton, who will be attending her eighth feast, said she has noticed familiar faces coming to the event each year.

“This also is our congregation,” Patton said. “This is our community as well. There are new people every year and those who return, but it does feel like it has it’s own life as a community, not just an extension of Saugatuck Church.”

She recalled an occasion in which a repeat volunteer gave her a hand-crafted holiday card despite only meeting once a year.

“It reinforced that this is its own community with its own identity and history that I’m privileged to be a part of and witness,” Patton said.