For three decades, the free public Thanksgiving dinner at Sweetwaters American Bistro in downtown Burlington has overcome countless challenges, from finding enough tables to seat an annual attendance of 1,000 people to switching to takeout. during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It never occurred to me not to do something,” longtime owner David Melincoff said of all the obstacles.
Melincoff sold the restaurant this year and retired, ending – at least temporarily – a 31-year tradition.
“With Covid and not being able to recruit enough staff,” he said, “it’s different now than it was.”
Burlington isn’t the only community in Vermont to stop hosting a free Thanksgiving dinner. Brattleboro and Montpelier also traded sit-down meals open to all for limited take-out options for those most in need.
“We’re really excited to be offering Thanksgiving-themed meals, but unfortunately we don’t have the funding to be able to do anything other than our normal cast,” said Amanda Witman, who works with the Vermont everyone eats program and, more specifically, its Brattleboro branch.
Before Covid, Sweetwaters held an annual event in Burlington that included 1,500 pounds of turkey and 50 gallons of gravy served on formal cutlery.
“It’s not a burden at all, but a good reminder of what you should be grateful for,” Melincoff said at the time. “A lot of people who walk in will tell you that’s the only time they can sit in a restaurant and be served.”
Sweetwaters shifted to takeout in 2020 and 2021 before selling its Church Street Marketplace building this year to The Farmhouse Group, which plans to move its nearby Pascolo Ristorante there.
With the space being renovated, The Farmhouse Group is donating 1,000 meals to be distributed by local social service agencies and is committed to continuing a long-term form of Thanksgiving giving, owner Jed Davis said.
Brattleboro and Montpelier would have celebrated the 50th anniversary of their free public Thanksgiving dinners this year if the pandemic had not brought changes.
In Brattleboro, volunteers once fed more than 500 people at a public event. This week, the local Everybody Eats program will provide turkey dinners to those who need it most.
“Most of these meals are distributed by community organizations to their customers,” Witman said.
In Montpelier, the Washington County Youth Service Bureau once provided table service for 800 people. This week, the National Life Group and its cafeteria supplier, Sodexo, will distribute free take-out meals to those who Reservations.
Some locations are returning to seated events. In Rutland, the Loyal Order of Moose will continue its half-century Thanksgiving dinner tradition with an in-person gathering on Thursday – although attendees had to register last week so organizers could anticipate the request.
A few communities in Vermont are issuing open invitations to meals this week.
In Saint Johnsburythe United Community Church has taken over past efforts from Kingdom Community Services, with an event scheduled for Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 1325 Main Street.
In Royalton Souththe 23rd annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner is scheduled for Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Vermont Law and Graduate School’s Chase Center.