West Haven church welcomes everyone on Thanksgiving

Community Thanksgiving Dinner at First Congregational Church.

Community Thanksgiving Dinner at First Congregational Church.

For 30 years, the Community Thanksgiving Dinner been giving people a place to come together for a holiday feast.

The Community Thanksgiving Dinner at the the First Congregational Church is a decades-long tradition in which about 50 volunteers was prepared to feed up to 150 people a real holiday dinner.

“I don’t know what walk of life people come from and I don’t care,” church member and dinner coordinator Bill Ewry said. “It’s a community dinner so everyone is welcome.”

On Thanksgiving day, the church coordinated with the Knights of Columbus to deliver 129 meals and an additional 150 meals to hand out to people sitting down. Volunteers served up sliced turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, carrots, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes and dozens of donated pies.

The dinner used to be an effort of several area churches who got together to put on the event.

“It was quite the operation back then,” said Ewry, who got involved with the dinner around 15 years ago. The first year he participated peeling potatoes in one of the church basements with his wife and eventually they stepped up to coordinate the dinner.

“I just enjoy doing it,” he said. “It would break my heart to see it not be put on.” Ewry said the dinner is important to the community because based on the attendance every year and attendance to the soup kitchens, there seems to be a need.

“It means a lot to me because if it weren’t for them I wouldn’t have a turkey dinner,” said New Haven resident Jennie Guayquier, who took the bus to attend the dinner.

“I don’t know how to make turkey, that’s number one, and my family is in New York,” she said. Every other year for the past eight years, Guayquier has come to the church for Thanksgiving dinner.

“This is a blessing to those who are here,” said Mario Rodriguez of New Haven. “I’m just thankful for them reaching out to people. It’s a joyous occasion here.”

This year, Rock Roasting Co. owner Joe Collier called to offer help roasting and slicing 130 pounds of turkeys he had donated for the dinner, so hot sliced turkeys were delivered 8 a.m. Thursday morning, Ewry said. The University of New Haven Dining Services prepared all the fresh mashed potatoes, something the church doesn’t have the facility do to and the dinner hasn’t seen in a while, Ewry said. But he really wanted to bring them back and the university prepared 250 services of mashed potatoes that volunteers just needed to heat and serve, he said.

Ewry gets the necessary help from loyal volunteers every year, including many of his family members. Between 75 percent and 80 percent of volunteers have been helping for a long time, he said.

“I love giving back,” said volunteer Georgia Catenza, who lives in West Haven. “I turn down invitations to other places because I’d rather be here. Seeing how happy people are to come, it’s heartwarming. They are always thankful to you.”

Volunteer Peggy Dolan had always admired people who gave their time on Thanksgiving to help others, so she got involved last year. Similar to Catenza, Dolan said she enjoys helping others because people give gratitude back.