WESTPORT — While the longheld tradition of Saugatuck Congregational Church’s community Thanksgiving feast is canceled due to COVID, the community has banded together to reimagine a new way to help those in need.

“Our 40-year-tradition is very much about creating community space, and that’s not something that we were going to be able to accomplish this year and still keep the community safe,” Rev. Alison Buttrick Patton said. “Instead, we’re focusing entirely on addressing food insecurity.”

Organizers will work alongside OnTheMarc Catering of Westport, to provide donated meals. All of the participants in Westport’s Center for Senior Activities’ home delivered meal program, as well as those at the Gillespie Center will receive a meal on Thanksgiving.

“There are about 45 Westport residents on that list who are already known by the Westport Center for Senior Activities and are on their delivery meal program,” Patton said. “So we’re going to be making a Thanksgiving meal for all of them.”

Those not already identified through these two programs can call the church’s “Thanksgiving hotline” to confidentially request food assistance prior to the holiday. Residents can can call the church, or register at http://saugatuckchurch.org to receive a one-time gift card for groceries to purchase Thanksgiving Day food supplies.

“There’s also a link there for people who like to make donations to support the effort we are undertaking,” Patton said.

This year’s effort to support those in need is also a community effort. Patton said the program was made possible with the help of the Interfaith Clergy, Westport Rotary Club, Westport Sunrise Rotary, and Temple Israel, who will donate pies to be given to those receiving meals this year. Coleytown Elementary students also continued the tradition of making holiday cards, which will accompany the food this year.

Nancy Isaacs, director of early childhood education at Temple Israel, said every year it has been tradition to ask parents to donate pies for the community Thanksgiving feast.

“This year we were trying to figure out during the pandemic how can we still participate,” Isaacs said. “So the parents will be delivering pies outside of our building and the children are decorating brown paper bags in fall colors and stickers, and just making them festive.”

She said besides teaching everything children are usually taught in pre-school they wanted to teach them how important it is to care for others in the world.

“The tradition of coming together for this Thanksgiving feast for the needy and the homeless is such an annual tradition that all people in the community look forward together,” Isaacs said. “In some way to be able to continue that and to supply that tradition for people in need is so important.”

Patton said her church decided in September that an indoor feast was not feasible. She then convened an advisory team to plan an alternative.

“We went through several models, and brainstormed a variety of ways to get food to people,” Patton said. “It ultimately settled on this hybrid design.”

She said she’s reminded each year, but not surprised, by the generosity of the community in supporting the tradition, including this year’s unique event.

“We’re all grateful for it. It’s having a measurable impact on making a dent in food insecurity this year,” Patton said. “It’s a year where there’s a more urgent need than in other years.”

dj.simmons@hearstmediact.com