Sweetwaters serves up warm, free, meals on Thanksgiving - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Sweetwaters serves up warm, free, meals on Thanksgiving

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One Burlington restaurant was buzzing Thanksgiving with holiday cheer -- as volunteers served warm meals to those with no place to go.

"I'm still here," patron Gene Shapins remarked. "I still have friends that I can talk to."

Everyone had something to be thankful for Thursday morning, like Karl Barry, who says a recent surgery has him walking again after being in a wheelchair for four years.

"Almost about 200 days and I'm walking." Barry said.

Barry and other patrons chowed down on a traditional turkey dinner at Sweetwaters in downtown Burlington. This is the 24th year the local restaurant has served Thanksgiving meals to the needy - and really anyone who stops in. The heaping plates of stuffing, turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and more are offered to anybody who walks through the door on Thanksgiving.

More than 60 volunteers come to Sweetwaters to serve up the dinners, and donations from the local community and vendors make it happen year after year.

Kent O'Connell has spent his holiday volunteering at the event 13 years in a row.

"You know what? It's the way Thanksgiving should be. You should give back to the community. I see some of the same people that come in every year, they come in they get jackets, they have a meal. Some of these people never get to go to a restaurant," O'Connell said.

Anna Deller, Sarah Gallagher, and Donna Quinlan were in charge of a very popular course.

"I'm in charge of whipped cream," Quinlan said.

"First of all people love it, they come in and they get dessert first and then they go and get their dinner," Deller said.

Those who give their time say they are guests just as much as they are volunteers. This is Deller's 7th year helping out.

"I don't have family here, so, all my family is out of town so this is a wonderful way for me to just give back to people," Deller said.

This annual effort to make those who go without, feel at home is unfortunately still very necessary. The most recent report from the Vermont Council on Homelessness says that on any given day, more than 2,800 people in the state are without a place to sleep.  The average stay in a shelter is thirty-six days.

Sweetwaters says the thrill of hosting the event year after year never goes away.

"Absolutely awesome, just everybody is so appreciative and it's just a nice way to start Thanksgiving," Terri Melincoff, with Sweetwaters, said.

"It feels almost like home, not quite, but it's relaxing," Barry said.

Restaurant owners say they'll use about 900 pounds of turkey and serve between 1,000 and 1,500 meals.

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