Not even an ongoing pandemic can stop Vacaville veterans groups from making sure people get a hot meal this Thanksgiving, even if it means adjusting the meal distribution.
This is the second year in a row that meals are on delivery rather than being served in the dining room of the Vacaville Veterans Memorial Building, as has been the case for much of the annual meal’s history. What hasn’t changed is the weekly preparation by volunteers carving turkey, slicing ham, and serving other dishes that are delivered to whoever wishes. Several volunteers were on hand on Tuesday to carve the meat and juice the sweet potatoes.
Dinner is a joint effort by several local veterans groups including American Legion Post and Auxilliary 165, AMVETS Post 1776, Disabled American Veterans Chapter 84, and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post and Auxilliary 4244. Event organizer Jeff Jewell said the tradition dates back approximately 35 years, when a woman called Veterans Hall about a homeless veteran camping under a bridge for Thanksgiving and asked if the hall would do something about it. Some local veterans decided to cook a few turkeys and dinner became an annual tradition.
Jewell said the goal has always been to serve everyone who walks in, regardless of their economic status. In fact, the motto over the years has been: “No coat or fur coat, we’ll still give you food.”
“We don’t want anyone to go hungry,” he said.
Jewell said dinner is especially popular with seniors who would otherwise be home alone on vacation. They got to know other guests and waiters so well that Jewell said they “came here to be with the family.”
Jewell hopes meals will return to the dine-in format next year, but the volunteers still put as much work into meal preparation as any other year. About 160 volunteers have come or will come this week and about 100 are scheduled to work on Thanksgiving alone.
Recipients receive a full meal of turkey, ham, mashed potatoes and sauce, green beans with onions and bacon, cranberry sauce, yams, rolls and cake, all donations. Jewell said volunteers cooked about 50 turkeys and made 340 pounds of ham for about 800 to 900 meals alone. In fact, he said the Veterans Hall is still receiving calls and people can still request meals until Thanksgiving day.
There were so many turkey donations that Jewell said some will be frozen and used for Christmas dinner and others will be broken up into turkey soup for Epiphany Church community dinner.
Meals have been requested and will be delivered across Solano County, and Jewell said the bulk of the deliveries will be in Vacaville, Fairfield and Dixon. Some meals are even served to staff at the main gate, terminal, and David Grant Medical Center at Travis Air Force Base.
“About a hundred meals are being delivered to everyone who works at Travis Air Force Base on Thanksgiving Day,” he said.
About 15 volunteers were in the basement on Tuesday to help with food. Peggy Delgado, in her sophomore year as a volunteer, helped carve turkeys, set tables, fold towels, essentially “whatever it takes,” she said.
Delgado said she loved giving back to the community and she liked the people she met during her previous volunteering.
“I wanted to come back this year,” she says.
Delgado particularly enjoys working with Jewell and values the support he has given veterans over the years.
“Jeff has great service here,” she said. “I’m impressed with everything he does and how he gets so much help and helps so many.”
Jennifer Ritchie has been a volunteer for ten years and likes the people she works with.
“Everyone is very open and friendly, and we are all very happy,” she said. “It’s a nice, positive work environment.”
Ritchie also likes the look on people’s faces when they receive the food, be it in the dining room or via delivery service, which she calls “expressions of appreciation”. Ritchie helped distribute food last year and even brought her grandchildren with her.
“They see that there are others who don’t have as much as they do, but they are learning a lesson in delivering meals, meeting families, and meeting individuals,” she said. “It’s a good learning experience and a good life experience.”
Jewell said the format and food would be the same for Christmas dinner, except that corn would be substituted for the green beans. Those who order Thanksgiving dishes now can order one for Christmas Eve as well.
As difficult as last year was, Jewell hopes the Christmas season will bring people together.
“There are a lot of people who don’t have a lot,” he says. “We want you to have a nice vacation and have enough to eat.”
The meals are delivered on Thursdays between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. People without addresses can pick up meals at Merchant St. 549 at the same time. Delivery can still be arranged by calling 447-6354 or at Vacavets.org/free-holiday-dinners/. People are encouraged to ask what else volunteers need before they donate.