In Your Midst

A Gathering with Family and Friends

Xmas 2007

Thanksgiving Dinner at the Cathedral Kitchen

Thanksgiving Day at the Cathedral Kitchen
Sarah Ragen masters the fine art of the flaky crust.

Thanksgiving Day at the Cathedral Kitchen
600 pounds of beautiful turkey baked to perfection.

Thanksgiving Day at the Cathedral Kitchen
The early afternoon crew peels 100 pounds of
potatoes on Thanksgiving Day.

Thanksgiving Day at the Cathedral Kitchen
David Olsen helps set the tables.

It is the morning before Thanksgiving, and preparations for the big dinner in the Cathedral Kitchen are already well underway.  Over at the Pastoral Outreach Center, four turkeys are roasting in the oven, while many more wait their turn on the counter.  In Cathedral Hall, a group of volunteers has cheerfully undertaken the daunting task of preparing 50 pumpkin pies.  Patrick stirs the pumpkin pie mix in a vast bowl, while Barry slices cubes of real butter for the dough.  Sarah is at the electric mixer, and, at age 14, is already mastering the art of the flaky crust.  Moira rolls out the dough, then hands it on to Kath and Gretchen, who place the crust in the pie tins, carefully crimping the edges.  Kathleen fills the crusts with the finished pumpkin pie mix and slides them into a large rack, ready for baking. When asked for the recipe, they all laugh.  “It’s an old family secret,” says one.  “It’s three parts care and two parts do as you are told!” adds another.

It is no wonder that the pie team works together so well—many of them have been doing this for four, five, and even ten years!  They know the Kitchen really needs help, and, as Kath says, it is good for the guests at the Cathedral Kitchen to have a homemade pie.

On Thanksgiving morning, the early crew starts work at 7 a.m.  By 1 p.m., there are more than a dozen volunteers at work in the Hall.  In the kitchen, Mary and Griff, Roberta, and Rosemary are hard at work peeling one hundred pounds of potatoes.  They have all been coming to the Kitchen on Thanksgiving for years.  “It’s a great way to be a disciple,” says Rosemary.  Mary and Griff add, “We really enjoy it.  Our family is in Florida, and this is a nice way to be with family on Thanksgiving.”

Donny is at the stove. A professional chef, Donny was not able to go back to Denver for Thanksgiving this year.  It was his mother who told him, “You need to go volunteer somewhere!”  So he called Jim and Jill McAuliffe and found his way to the Cathedral Kitchen for the first time, where he was promptly put to work making ten gallons of turkey gravy.

At the same time, another group of volunteers is beginning to set the tables.  This is Judy’s fifth year volunteering in the Kitchen.  “It just seems like the right thing to do,” she says.  “I am so blessed to be able to share a wonderful meal with family on Thanksgiving, and I want to be part of making that possible for others.”

This is David and Reeny Olsen’s first time serving Thanksgiving dinner in the Kitchen, though Reeny volunteers here regularly.  “We’ve talked about it for years,” David says, “and now with no kids at home, we have the freedom to make Thanksgiving a day of service.”

The Cathedral Kitchen serves a hot meal every weekday, but Thanksgiving is special.  More people come—about three hundred!—and to accommodate them all there are two seatings, at 4 and 5pm.  More than 50 volunteers are involved in the preparation, cooking, serving, and of course the clean-up for this Thanksgiving meal.  And they do more than just cook the food and set the tables.  One volunteer, a professional musician, plays the piano during the meal, while others sit down and join the guests for dinner.
For Jim and Jill McAuliffe, Directors of the Cathedral Kitchen, it is all about sharing.  There is the sharing that happens among the various food programs in the city, who coordinate their efforts to ensure that nothing goes to waste.  There is the sharing that happens when people are moved to make donations—this Thanksgiving, the Kitchen received a gift of 1,200 pounds of turkey and a pallet of rice!

And even more important, there is the joy of a meal shared together.  For many of the guests, Jill says, it isn’t so much about the food; it’s about the companionship they find in the family atmosphere of the Cathedral Kitchen.  There are so many people living alone in the First Hill neighborhood—many of them elderly, and many of them painfully lonely.  At the Kitchen, they find a safe place to meet other people, to talk and share ideas.  Kathleen O’Hanlon, who directed the Kitchen for many years as part of the Catholic Worker group, came back to help this Thanksgiving Day.  She observes, “Everyone is permeated with images of what Thanksgiving is supposed to be—a gathering with family and friends, a wonderful meal.  But that’s not the reality for many people.  For both volunteers and guests, coming here is a way to realize that vision, that gathering with family which is what everyone wants.”
While the Cathedral Kitchen was able to accommodate all of their guests this Thanksgiving, three hundred strong, it was harder to accommodate all the volunteers.  Jim and Jill had to turn away more than a dozen!  “It’s wonderful that people want to give back during the holidays,” Jill says.  “But I hope they’ll volunteer another time, because people are hungry every day of the year.”

Volunteer Reeny Olsen adds:  “Every day is Thanksgiving at Cathedral Kitchen!  Here the truth of God’s bounty is reaffirmed daily in the people, the feast, and the sacred space.  The place hums with joy and thanksgiving."

Thanksgiving Dinner Menu

Corinna Laughlin is the Pastoral Assistant for Liturgy at St. James Cathedral.

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