It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a few hours spent helping prepare the holiday meal at Open Hearth, a shelter for homeless men in the Hartford area since 1884. The kitchen isn’t particularly spacious with over a dozen people at work, but that only makes getting to know each other easier while we slice vegetables, stir pots and mix stuffing. It’s a commercial kitchen crowded with stainless steel counters, ovens, refrigerators, sinks, stacks of hotel trays, and racks of hanging utensils, but we make it a cozy place.
Amidst the sounds of clattering pots, running water and bursts of conversation, I begin the morning by peeling potatoes with Nick and Maria. Nick’s a newcomer who’s a bartender and handyman. Maria and I seem to pick up where we left off last year chatting about books, our children, and the elaborate holiday confections she creates at home. Most of the helping hands return year after year and we’ve become a kind of family meeting annually to catch up while slicing vegetables, stirring pots, and setting tables.
The room fills with the smell of warming turkey and stuffing. There's productive energy in the sound of trays filled with beans and corn as they scrape along the counters, and the click of a whisk whipping up gravy. Vegetables sizzle in a sauté pan, and huge stockpots brimming with boiling potatoes throw clouds of steam into the fragrant air. In assembly line fashion, we create portions with a large dollop of stuffing covered with generous portions of breast meat laid over dark. The tables are neat and colorful with bowls of olives and pickles. Soon it will be “show time.”
I never fully grasped the holiday’s spirit of gratitude until I joined the Open Hearth crew on Thanksgiving morning. By the time I sit down with my family and friends it’s easy to look around and know why I’m thankful. Even the food has a keener taste.