Milford group's Thanksgiving dinner tradition returns in-person

Mary Taylor Memorial Methodist Church Pastor Senior Roy Grubbs, (left) and Missions director Rachel Merva, are committed to strengthening the relationship between churches and city agencies.

Mary Taylor Memorial Methodist Church Pastor Senior Roy Grubbs, (left) and Missions director Rachel Merva, are committed to strengthening the relationship between churches and city agencies.

Saul Flores/Hearst Connecticut Media

MILFORD — After a two-year hiatus caused by the pandemic, Mary Taylor Memorial Missions is once again sponsoring Thanksgiving dinner — a gathering of food and hope that had been a holiday tradition for over a decade prior to the shutdowns.

Mary Taylor Memorial Missions, a division of Mary Taylor Memorial United Methodist Church in Milford, has sponsored Thanksgiving dinner at Beth-El Center for the past 15 years. Rachel Merva, the missions committee chair, said such missions are important to the church because they strive to help people in the local community and beyond.

"For two years, Dockside did a to-go meal because we were on shutdown and weren't allowed in the kitchen with our volunteers, but now we are back," said Merva, adding that the church will be hosting this year's Thanksgiving dinner beginning at 5 p.m. on Nov. 24.

The church's missions also include coat and canned food drives, collecting school supplies for students, and collecting animal shelter donations, but this dinner was started from the partnership between Mary Taylor Memorial Missions and the Beth-El Center.

"The clergy association decided to support Beth-El's soup kitchen program," said Merva. "The clergy association asked for volunteers to provide supper one Thursday a month, and 15 years ago, Mary Taylor signed up for the fourth Thursday, and the fourth Thursday of the month is always Thanksgiving. Paul Downing was the first to spearhead Mary Taylor's supper program and was very intentional about having a true guest experience providing dinner."

Merva said the attendance is roughly between 60 to 70 people, but this year might be different because it's the first time an in-person supper will be held at Beth-El Center after they had to stop because of the pandemic.

Merva said attendees will be greeted at the door, and if they have coat donations or other warm clothing, there will be a table where they will offer warm apparel to the attendees.

"It's going to be a buffet type of dining," she said. "People will come up with their plate, and they will get people serving them for the turkey dinner. The meal service is about an hour."

United Way of Milford is also helping with a donation, Merva said. 

"We put boxes for donations of socks, toiletries, and other kinds of items that will be appropriate like toothpaste, shampoo, baby needs, toddler size socks, diapers and more of those types things," said Barry Berman, Milford United Way CEO. 

Merva said they have about 20 to 25 people on the missions team ready to help, and Laura and Ritchie Perregeux lead them.

"The Perregeuxs have been instrumental to the turkey dinner," said Merva. "Laura has professional kitchen experience, so she organizes the menu, planning and cooking."

Even though they could not host in-person gatherings for supper before this, Mary Taylor Memorial United Methodist Church Pastor Roy Grubbs said they were creative in how they delivered the meals.

"We do this every month, we've been doing cookouts or sitting outside, and we've done a lot of to-go bags," he said. "So our first experience back in person is going to be with a lot of people for Thanksgiving, which I think is going to be pretty cool. We will welcome the community, have a big sit-down spread, and make people feel welcome."

In addition to serving the Beth-El community and homeless community, Merva said the church decided to extend the invitation to their parishioners.

"If people were retirees or didn't have any plans that day or didn't have any family around or interested in coming together with this meal, they could come too," she said.

Grubbs and Merva said they are interested in deepening the relationship with Beth-El and other community agencies.

One way Mary Taylor Memorial Missions hopes to deepen those connections is with its Milford Interfaith Thanksgiving Community Celebration.

"It used to be called interfaith service, but I just got here, and when I was speaking with the clergy in September, the first thing they wanted to do together was to plan the Thanksgiving service," said Grubbs.

When he heard the service was held, Grubbs said it was a traditional service.

"I said, 'OK, that's great, but what if we did something different,'" he said. "What we came up with, and Rachel has been instrumental in this, is gathering here at the church at 3 p.m. this Sunday. Each church is responsible for bringing one or two sets of items, and we will assemble about 50 blessing bags and 50 food bags, and we will do all this as a community to benefit Beth-El Center."

Merva said the blessing bags and food bags will be given out at the Thanksgiving dinner.

The main idea is for the church to unite over a common cause to help an essential agency in the city, said Grubbs.

"We are also going to have crafts like painting rocks with symbols and words of gratitude and thankfulness on them," continued Grubbs. "We are going to have games and fun activities and refreshments."

At the interfaith event, agency representatives from Beth-El, Boys and Girls Club, and others will be there.

"There are four or five agencies that are committed to coming, so we can give them a minute or two of the spotlight," said Merva. "We want to be more connected with Beth-El and other agencies that are doing good in our community, that we are thankful for."