GLOVERSVILLE - The Gloversville-Johnstown Council of Churches has cooked for more than 1,000 at Thanksgiving in years past - but this year could be a perfect storm of meals with more than 1,200 expected.
Jim Donnelly has been helping with the dinner for 20 years, and in spite of being in a wheelchair after the loss of a leg, he is helping out again this year.
He said with the economy in a downward spiral and Thanksgiving coming later in the month this year, more people are likely to participate in the community dinner.
The Leader-Herald/Richard Nilsen
Jim Donnelly talks Wednesday about his part in the annual Thanksgiving community meal put on by the council of churches and dispensed from St. Mary of Mount Carmel kitchen in Gloversville.
The Leader-Herald/Richard Nilsen
The Faith Formation office of St. Mary of Mount Carmel Sacred Heart Church is pictured Wednesday in Gloversville.
Pat Bender has been helping with the meal for 25 years, and said volunteers seem to be coming in as needed.
"A lot are willing to work and deliver meals," Bender said.
The tally of reservations coming in to the office at St. Mary of Mount Carmel office was more than 400 as of Wednesday, but Bender said many of the reservations come in at the last minute.
She praised Donnelly's efforts in spite of his handicap.
"He tried to do too much last year," Bender said. "He slipped and fell the day before Thanksgiving and was in the hospital. Those things happen. But he gets around pretty good in that wheelchair."
Donnelly made a joke of his discomfort with an artificial leg.
"I don't do left turns well," he said.
In spite of being on wheels, Donnelly drove a load of 10 turkeys to Fulton-Montgomery Community College food service Thursday morning where they would be cooked. The entire process of cooking more than 60 turkeys at various sites depends on many volunteers, Donnelly said.
Greg Gottung of Gloversville has been in charge of routing turkey dinner deliveries for many years. He said it couldn't be done without the help of community volunteers and he said he was very thankful for their participation in the community event.
Bender said most dinners are delivered to homes, shut-ins, families in need and those who would otherwise be alone for Thanksgiving. But she said more and more requests are coming in from young families with a limit of five dinners available per family due to the high number of requests expected.
"Anyone can request a dinner or show up at Mt. Carmel on Thanksgiving Day," Bender said.
She said it was a community meal and social gathering and not limited to those in need. Most are delivered, with only about 100 meals served in the church basement - but with food pantries stretched to the limit and people who have lost their jobs, she expects more this year.
At the Ecumenical Food Pantry in Broadalbin, the Rev. Bill Delia said the food pantry has been very busy.
"We expect to provide double the Thanksgiving dinner baskets we did last year," Delia said. "More families are in need."
His wife, Regina, said the pantry provided 57 Thanksgiving dinner baskets last year and they expected to have at least 100 this year. Delia said the pantry provides non-perishable food and has had to cut back on the number of boxes allowed per family.
Bender said the community meal started 25 years ago in the kitchen of Evelyn Trippodo when she and Bender talked about people needing food at Thanksgiving.
"We spoke about it at an inter-faith tea," Bender said. "I started cooking squash and pies."
Bender said the meal has grown every year since and has found volunteers have "shown up to help."
"We seem to get a lot of volunteers Thanksgiving Day because they have the day off," she said. "Some [cook] turkeys and dressing and bring it then."
Others who help out include the Johnstown High School Key Club who cut up 160 loaves of bread for stuffing and cook 30 pies the Tuesday before Thanksgiving at St. Anthony's Church in Johnstown. She said John Pavlus of Holy Trinity Churches in Johnstown coordinates the Johnstown contingent of volunteers.
"He's the chief cook and volunteers for the men's club and events," Bender said. "They do about 20 turkeys at their end."
Bender said only so much work could be done ahead of time.
"The real push is next week," Bender said Wednesday. "You can't do too much too far ahead. I farm things out."
Because of all the volunteers who show up to help, Bender said "it makes it seem like stuff magically happens."
Bender said whereas she used to peel squash she now uses canned veggies. She said Donnelly was a master gardener and trades his homemade pickles for canned evaporated milk with a contact he has in New York City every year.
"In spite of the wheelchair, he gets around pretty good," Bender said.
Donnelly said he expected a big increase in dinners this year.
"The numbers at the food pantries tell us the numbers for the dinners will be way up," he said. "More than 1,200 or even 1,300 dinners are definite possibilities this year."
Donnelly said he has noticed more young families have moved into the city this year and younger families are showing up at food pantries.
"There's no waste," Donnelly said. "Leftovers go to the soup kitchens."
Pavlus said the dinner used to be at the Johnstown Reformed Church, but now the Holy Trinity supports the dinner served at Mt. Carmel.
"I have two teams [of cooks] at St. Anthony's and Immaculate Conception," Pavlus said.
He said they pre-make the dressing starting Monday and it is heated Thursday. He said he has everything on computer in order to coordinate the effort.
He also praised Donnelly's efforts coordinating the meal.
"He's a marvelous guy," Pavlus said of Donnelly. "He painted his house using a long stick and roller. It's great how he keeps up his enthusiasm."
To reserve a dinner for delivery, call 725-1213 or come to the church hall at 161 S. Main St. in Gloversville between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Richard Nilsen is a general assignment reporter and can be reached at email@example.com.