NORWICH — The Emmanuel Episcopal Church, located at 37 West Main Street in Norwich, will be offering free Thanksgiving dinners on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 24.
Due to COVID-19 concerns, dine-in service will not be returning this year, but area residents can call the church at 607-334-8801 to order delivery or take-out meals. Co-Organizer John Klockowski said the team of volunteers anticipates deliveries will begin at 10 a.m., with take out starting at 11 a.m.
This year's menu consists of all the Thanksgiving Day staples: turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and a bread roll. Klockowski said he also hopes to provide a dessert item with the meals, such as a pre-packaged cookie.
"Typically ladies have donated and baked pies, but because of COVID we’re still staying cautious about having any pies brought in," he said. "So we might go that avenue just to give some kind of a dessert."
The Emmanuel Episcopal Church has been offering free Thanksgiving dinners for approximately 16 years, after Klockowski's close friend Charlie McMullen started the Taste and See Soup Kitchen in Oxford about 20 years ago. The operation was later moved to Norwich, after which McMullen started the annual Thanksgiving meals.
"He passed away a year ago, September 11, and without him this would’ve never come to fruition. He started the soup kitchen in Oxford, it was called the Taste and See Soup Kitchen. He was 20-plus years with that, and without him none of this would be possible," said Klockowski. "I mean, he’s constantly on my mind every time I walk into that soup kitchen, that’s for sure."
Since its inception, the free dinners have only grown more popular. In 2020, the church broke their record with 567 meals given out. Last year, the record was broken once again with 675 meals served. Klockowski said this year he and co-organizer Gary Brookins have prepared for 700-plus meals to be served.
"Gary and I have been talking about this event probably for the last six months, because we knew this was going to be a little bit of a different year, and we wanted to make sure we had all of the kitchen help assembled, that we had all of the food items assembled as best we could," said Klockowski. "So right now we’re in pretty good shape and we’re just waiting for that day where we have to start cooking and preparing, and actually Thanksgiving Day to assemble and prepare the meals."
The free Thanksgiving Day meals are made possible by a team of volunteers who prepare, package, and deliver the food, as well as the Norwich American Legion and Ray's Kitchen.
"This year is a little bit different, only because we're having to prepare much of the food items ourselves. Typically we ran through Tim Thompson at the Ontario Hotel. The Ontario Hotel sold and I believe it’s now called Ray’s Kitchen. They are continuing to help with the assistance of Tim Thompson," said Klockowski. "We have a special team coming in to peel about 200 pounds of potatoes. So that’s a start. So we’re having to cook quite a few of the turkeys, and we have to break them down, get the meat pulled away and deboned, basically."
"That was a little bit of a challenge to acquire the turkeys, because there was somewhat of a supply shortage from time to time. So Gary went from store to store and found what was in the store," he continued. "He acquired I want to say 25, 20-plus pound turkeys. Thank God the American Legion was available to help store those turkeys for us. It’s a true community event."
Despite the vast amount of food to prepare and changes in their usual operation, Klockowski has full faith the team will be able to prepare the 700-plus meals without a hitch.
"The staff with whom I work, basically some friends and family who help me out in the kitchen, they're very well versed. Last year we were done in about two and a half hours after assembling the 675 meals. So it’s a pretty well-oiled machine that we have going on," he said.
Klockowski encourages anyone who would like a meal to reach out and order one. He hopes they will soon be able to return to hosting in-person Thanksgiving Day dinner at the Emmanuel Episcopal Church.
"It’s truly a free meal to anybody that wants to walk in the door or order a meal through the rectory service," said Klockowski. "We really enjoy seeing all the people that come in and seeing our help, the drivers and people that assemble the packages for the people that come in for take outs, and of course the people that actually receive the meals. We see them year in, year out, and we have great conversations."
"We’re just waiting for the time that we can actually start and resume our sit-in meals, because that’s really the fun part where we can actually go out into the dining area and speak with all of the people and wish them all the best on Thanksgiving Day."