A decade-long tradition was honored last Thursday at the Church of Saint Augustine in Highland.
For ten years, St. Augustine has provided lunches to those who needed one for the holiday. This event has been helping people to enjoy their holiday for the last decade by welcoming people into the St. Augustine school gymnasium to enjoy a warm meal and the company of others. St. Augustine also provides curbside pickup for those who couldn’t come inside.
When the idea was pitched a decade ago, the church had four weeks to make the event happen. At that time, Father Thomas Lutz was pastor and in charge of promoting the event. He advertised the occasion by putting it in the newspaper and making yard signs to post throughout the town to show how people could donate to the event. Father Tom also asked other churches to discuss the luncheon with their congregations.
Although he is no longer in Highland, the former pastor came back this year to help with the event.
“The first time, it wasn’t known yet,” Lutz explained, “so there was a smaller crowd because we didn’t have time to advertise as much.”
In the luncheon’s first year, a small group of just 40 people came. Although the group was small, St. Augustine Church had meals ready for over 200 people. The following year, the Church made 50 yard signs to inform people of the event. From that year forward, the number of guests has increased in size, according to Father Tom. In the previous year, the church gave out over 300 Thanksgiving lunches.
This year the church made 220 lunches to give out with volunteers from the congregation helping. Since its inception, Richard Gorres has been involved with the luncheon. Gorres had knowledge of assisting other churches with such an event, including St. Joseph’s in New Paltz. The event has been running for a decade, and Gorres sees no signs of stopping.
“I won’t cut this back until I can’t walk,”Gorres says.
When looking for recruits, Gorres brought Chef Mark Schmitt to help. Schmitt supports by helping to cook most of the food. When getting food for the event this year, the Church looked to outside help, such as Red Barn Produce and Wagon Wheel Deli, both providing the vegetables to cook for the luncheon. The 24 donated turkeys were from Sal’s Place restaurant in Highland.
Several Highland High School students were in attendance to help this year, including Basil Metz, who has been attending for the last five years.
“People deserve to have tasty food, and people that can’t supply it for themselves deserve to have a fun Thanksgiving,” says Metz.
All the food preparations was started on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. All the dishes that were distributed were made from scratch, according to the chef. From start to finish, the process takes 20 hours; this includes setting up the chairs and tables and making the food.
Since Schmitt works the event, his family comes in on different occasions to aid wherever they can; because of this, Schmitt and his family celebrate Thanksgiving the day after. Despite the pandemic stopping most events from happening for the last two years, this never stopped the church from doing its luncheon. Instead of having dine-in seating, the church chose to have curbside pickups and deliveries so people could still obtain their Thanksgiving meal.
In the middle of the pandemic last year, St. Augustine made 300 to-go box meals for curbside and delivery. Once the event is over every year, the volunteers help to change the dining hall back into the school gymnasium. If any food is left by the end of the event, it is taken to a shelter in Poughkeepsie to be served.
At the end of the day, all who come to help, whether it be those who donate food or those who come to serve the food, are happy to help in any way they can. Many of the volunteers show no sign of wanting to stop aiding in this event.
Louie, one of the volunteers, put it perfectly.
“It takes a lot of time, and it takes sacrifice,” he said. “For people that aren’t as fortunate, you take a little bit of time, sacrifice away from your family. You ensure that for the people that can’t afford or can’t be with their families, we do what we can for other people.”