The Community Thanksgiving Luncheon’s Humble Beginnings

The very first Community Thanksgiving Luncheon in 1999. Jessie McGarty with 7-week old son Jordan and our beloved chef of many years Don Finch.
The very first Community Thanksgiving Luncheon in 1999. Jessie McGarty with 7-week old son Jordan and our beloved chef of many years Don Finch.

In the fall of 1999 I approached the Reverend Ken Keiffer at the East Avenue United Methodist Church and asked if I could start up a free of charge Thanksgiving meal to be provided and served by volunteers and all would be welcome. He said yes.

The first year we had the event on Thanksgiving day and church members volunteered. Don Finch was in charge of cooking the meal and kitchen crew, and I coordinated everything else. We had more helpers than guests and although my dream of a full dining hall didn’t come true I knew we had the start of something special. The Community Thanksgiving Luncheon was created.

The volunteers we had made real connections with those in attendance and while the food was delicious it was the company that made our event unique. I didn’t want another soup kitchen meal. They are wonderful and necessary but just not what I had envisioned for our event. My goal was to provide a place where folks from all walks of life here in Norwalk could come and feel like they are family. We talked, laughed, sang, even danced, and exchanged phone numbers (before we had cellphones) and made plans to get together at other times. Friendships were born. No one should be without companionship or a lovely holiday meal and we are doing our part to see that never happens.

After that first year we changed the date so our event would always be the Sunday before Thanksgiving and our attendance grew. We gladly welcomed community members to volunteer. Many come from local schools, elementary through high school, the Senior Center, local businesses, multiple houses of worship, and word of mouth are what makes this event possible and wonderful!

We currently celebrate the CTL at Cornerstone Community Church where we now feed over 400 guests each year. Our event begins with our prep day, the day before. That Saturday morning we have children make crafts that become our decor, Boy Scouts set up tables and chairs, and volunteers from all over sort our donations and do some food prep including peeling and chopping over 100 lbs of potatoes, 80 lbs of carrots, and cooking 30 turkeys. All the while we play games, listen to music and enjoy the reunion of many of the volunteers who have returned for multiple years. Pretty much what happens when visiting family for Thanksgiving. Throughout the years we have added wonderful activities after the meal for all ages. Karaoke, arts and crafts, drum circles, live music, and multicultural activities such as head wraps done by members of the Sikh Temple, and henna tattoos by members of Al Madany Mosque. It truly is a community outreach event provided by and for the community and has become a beloved Norwalk tradition.

We welcome everyone and hope you will join us too.

Jessie McGarty
CTL founder