BY KAREN ALI
NAUGATUCK — St. Michael’s Episcopal Church’s Thanksgiving dinner has been a tradition of food and fellowship in the borough for 37 years.
While there have been changes over the years, some big and some small, the tradition continued Thanksgiving day Day, Nov. 24, with 50 volunteers, 62 cooked turkeys and 450 people served.
The major change occurred in 2020 when COVID-19 hit. Before that, it was an in-person event, with a sit-down dinner. Due to COVID concerns, adjustments had to be made, and now there is only takeout and delivery. People still do the best they can to connect with others during the pick-up and delivery process. Also, the volunteers enjoy camaraderie and companionship.
“There have been minor menu changes, but basically the same process for all these years,” said the Rev. Jules Jodko, church pastor.
He said there is a chance the sit-down dinner will return next year.
Professional chef Darren Zaldo, a parishioner who led the efforts to put together the meal, said there were many volunteers who helped by chopping and peeling, and carving the turkey over the last few days. He said they served 200 pounds of potatoes, 160 pounds of butternut squash, 200 pounds of stuffing and 80 pounds of cranberry sauce.
Volunteer Sandy Garahan of Naugatuck said she was in the parish hall kitchen on Meadow Street at 6 a.m. Thanksgiving Day to help out.
“People need help and community, and Naugatuck is a community town,” she said.
Shannon Wilcox of Prospect said she and her sister came last year to help and enjoyed it so much they returned this year.
“We were drawn to it,” she said as she served turkey that was being put in delivery boxes. “It made us feel good to do it so we wanted to do it again.”
The free dinner, which took place from 1 to 3 p.m., has always been free and welcome to all.
Jodko said cash donations, including $3,000 this year and $3,000 in reserve from last year, help make the event possible. Stew Leonard’s also donated 30 turkeys this year. A total of $4,000 was spent this year on food and other items needed to put on the dinner, so $2,000 will roll over to next year, the pastor said.
Jodko said inflation didn’t have an impact except for the turkeys, which cost more than last year
Jodko said each year volunteers begin helping the Sunday before, making turkeys, chopping food and taking part in food prep. On Thanksgiving Day, there is cooking, packaging the meals, delivery and cleanup. Volunteers from the congregation and the community help make the dinner happen.
The menu features turkey — light and dark meat, wing or drumstick — mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, roll and a choice of green beans, corn or butternut squash.
“It brings people together,” said Erica Obar of Naugatuck, who came to pick up meals with her boyfriend, Gregory Czel of Waterbury.
Czel added, “It’s a beautiful thing that they do.”