In Napa, The Table extends Thanksgiving dinner and goodwill to those in need
On Thanksgiving Day, at least one holiday feast provided a place at the table for those in Napa who otherwise would have no home-cooked meal – or no home.
Through the efforts of more than two dozen volunteers, some 200 people were able to partake of the holiday at The Table, the charity that has provided meals to less-privileged Napans for more than three decades. In a dining hall at downtown First Presbyterian Church, volunteer cooks and servers produced a repast of stuffed turkey breasts, glazed hams, stuffing, sweet potatoes and all the other delicacies American families take for granted on Thanksgiving – except for those who otherwise might be left out because of poverty or homelessness.
Before opening The Table’s 50-seat dining hall at 1 p.m. for four hours of seatings, the holiday feast’s co-organizer, Red Boutaghou, gathered his fellow volunteers – many of whom serve together on the first Friday of the month – to remind them the day’s goal went beyond serving the best dinner possible. Outside, the first few dozen guests – a few standing beside carts loaded with their few possessions – waited for the doors to open.
“These people, they are friends and family – treat them that way,” Boutaghou, who worked in the New York City restaurant business before retiring and moving west in 2015, told volunteers waiting behind a steam table of meats and side dishes, or the pie slices and ice cream cups on the dessert bar. “Keep the people happy; give them whatever they want. It’s a party today.”
The Table has served meals to underprivileged Napans since 1986, but opened its doors on Thanksgiving for the first time only last year, according to board member Mary Beth Reyes. Even after such a short time, however, interest from would-be helpers and donors has bloomed, she said Monday.
“As soon as the weather changes, we get requests to volunteer. It just speaks to what our community is,” Reyes said.
Thanksgiving dinner at The Table is an undertaking requiring 64 pounds of turkey breasts rolled into roulades – and three days of preparation by Boutaghou and his wife Isly San Pedro, who began volunteering with the charity for its 2017 holiday feast. A team of 16 helpers who together with Boutaghou and San Pedro prepare one meal a month at The Table began pitching in on Tuesday, to be joined by more volunteers Thursday morning, some arriving hours before the first plates were served.
“It’s my favorite holiday because to me it’s friends, it’s family, it’s food,” he said earlier in the kitchen while drizzling balsamic vinegar onto trays of sautéed Brussels sprouts. “We plan it like that, we cook it that way and serve it that way. It’s like friends and family coming over, and that’s how I see it.”
An array of food purchases, donations and cash helped supply Thursday’s holiday feast in Napa, according to San Pedro, including last-minute gifts of Brussels sprouts from Trader Joe’s and ice cream by the local Ben & Jerry’s parlor.
Among volunteers who have worked with Boutaghou from the start – and also those who were pitching in for the first time on Thursday – the feeling of making the holiday meaningful was plain.
“We’ve helped at The Salvation Army before, so it’s a nice way to give back” on Thanksgiving, said Noel Lopreore, a first-time helper at The Table, as she and two other women chopped chives to garnish sweet potatoes. “I have plenty to be thankful for. I’m thankful, honestly, for this – makes me feel good to be a part of somebody’s family dinner,” she said.
“People would pay $50 for this buffet without a doubt,” said George O’Meara, an original member of Boutaghou and San Pedro’s monthly team. “People who are food-challenged, they’re incredibly thankful. It warms your heart, makes you feel good. It’s your opportunity to give back in a very big way.”
The Thanksgiving meal was a rare and much-appreciated moment of ease for one guest in particular –Tanya Romano, a cancer survivor who has been homeless for 16 months and whose mother is suffering from advanced dementia.
“I think it’s a miracle that it happens every year for us,” she said. “I’m thankful for this today; I needed this.”