Families Make Volunteering a Thanksgiving Tradition - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Families Make Volunteering a Thanksgiving Tradition

David Melincoff David Melincoff

Burlington, Vermont - November 26, 2009

People pack Sweetwaters' dining room every year for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. And behind the steaming plates of turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes is a kitchen packed with volunteers.

"We don't know what thanksgiving would be like without doing this, to be honest with you," Peter Gustafson said.

Gustafson, his wife, and their two sons have made volunteering at Sweetwaters their own Thanksgiving tradition.

"This is our fourteenth year," Peter Gustafson said. "My boys are 28 and 24. We started when they were like 11 and 13."

Back then, he saw volunteering here as an opportunity to teach his kids about hunger around the world and here in Vermont.

"The biggest lesson I wanted my kids to learn growing up was take care of your neighbors," he explained.

"I live in Albany right now so it's a trek to come up here, but it's a great time," said Chris Gustafson, who is now in his mid-20s. He is one of about a hundred volunteers cooking food, plating desserts, serving meals and washing dishes. He says this has shaped his view of the holiday.

"It's just all about being able to give back on a day that everybody needs to be thankful for what we have," he said.

And the Gustafsons aren't alone. Organizers say about 85 percent of their volunteers come back year after year.

"They're calling in August, saying, 'I'm coming back again,'" said David Melincoff, the owner of Sweetwaters.

Melincoff says the volunteers make the meal special for the hundreds of guests who eat here.

"We have just as many people who come here not from a financial need but from an emotional need. That's why it's kind of evolved into a community dinner and anyone can come," Melincoff explained. "And the same thing happens to the volunteers. Some people here today are going through a divorce or have lost a significant other and just don't want to be lonely. They want to be around a bunch of people in the community."

And their work is appreciated by the guests they serve.

"I think that's really fantastic, how many people would do that? Not many," said Joanne Johnson of Burlington. "I think that's terrifically nice. Very, very super nice."

The Gustafsons will be back in the kitchen Friday-- this time, in their own home.

"We do have a turkey that's thawing out for us to cook up tomorrow," Peter Gustafson said. "So we'll have our own family Thanksgiving on Friday."

Kate Duffy - WCAX News

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