Vermont Law School Volunteers Host Community Thanksgiving
November 24, 2008
For the 11th year running, Vermont Law School’s Marilyn Labadie is bringing the South Royalton community together for a Thanksgiving meal. Back in 1998, Labadie was looking for some company for Thanksgiving after her mother had passed away. At the time, she was the manager of the then VLS-owned South Royalton House restaurant, so she thought she’d open the restaurant to members of the community for a free holiday meal, and the response was overwhelming. About 150 dinners were served from the restaurant that Thanksgiving.
By 2006 the dinner had grown so popular that a larger space was needed, so VLS opened its doors. Since then, the event has been held each Thanksgiving in the Chase Community Center, giving VLS students, staff, faculty, and their family members a chance to share a holiday meal together with community members. Last year, well over 250 people celebrated together.
Labadie relies heavily on volunteers and donations to make the event possible. “Volunteers have always come forward when needed, and many return to help year after year,” Labadie said. Local residents Helen Pettengill and Stephanie Fisk serve as community liaisons, and the committee is rounded out by Labadie, Sheila Clark Ferris, Matt Hoffman, Carol Rittenhouse, and Margaret Rogers. Many VLS students, staff, and faculty also participate, and the event presents an opportunity for anyone in the community to become involved. “Older folks like to help prepare the food and then have dinner together,” Labadie said, “I think they enjoy both lending a hand and sharing with their neighbors. It really pulls the community together.”
When Labadie organized the first community dinner, she realized that homebound seniors would appreciate receiving a holiday meal. “No Meals on Wheels are delivered in the days before Thanksgiving, so many seniors simply don’t get a good, hot meal all that week. There seemed a real need for the community to come together and share with them.” During the weeks before the dinner, Labadie gathers from church and community organizations the names of those to receive the meals. Volunteers arrive early Thanksgiving morning, package up dinners to go, and deliver the meals to the homebound in many surrounding towns.
Donations of food, equipment, space, and services also make the event possible. Local farms, businesses, and restaurants donate hundreds of pounds of squash and potatoes, countless loaves of bread, and paper goods. Community members bake and deliver dozens of pies and bring cranberry sauce to share. FitzVogt, the food service that serves Vermont Law School, provides linens, serving equipment, and use of their kitchen space. The food supplier for FitzVogt donates the turkeys and peas, as well as other kitchen equipment. The United Church in South Royalton also opens their kitchen in the days before the holiday when volunteers peel potatoes and prepare stuffing. The dinner committee begins its work many weeks before the dinner, asking for the needed donations—and dealing with any glitches. “When an expected donation doesn’t come through at the last minute, it can be a real scramble to find what is needed, but somehow, someone always steps forward and provides what we need. It sometimes seems like the dinner is just meant to happen.”
While serendipity may play a role in making the community dinner possible, this gathering would not happen without Labadie’s enthusiasm and dedication to bringing the community together. “In the end,” she said, “it’s all about family, and this community is like a family.”
The community Thanksgiving dinner will be served from 11:30 to 1:30 on November 27 in the Chase Community Center. To volunteer or donate a food item, please contact Marilyn Labadie at 802-831-1251 or firstname.lastname@example.org.