A new twist on Burlington’s old free Thanksgiving dinner tradition

Published: Nov. 23, 2022 at 4:50 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Groups in Chittenden County have teamed up to fill the void of free Thanksgiving meals left by the closing of Sweetwaters restaurant in Burlington.

For the past 30 years, you could find Sweetwaters on the Church Street Marketplace busy all Thanksgiving Day as they gave out more than 1,000 meals to community members in need.

However, after four decades, the restaurant’s doors are now shuttered. So, local groups including the incoming restaurant in the space stepped up to help feed the community.

The Thanksgiving meal giveaway looked a little different this year, centered in Burlington’s City Hall, just down the street from Sweetwaters. But for many, it was just as meaningful.

“Just means the city cares,” said Dennis Clark of Winooski.

“Peace of mind knowing you’ll be fed,” said Darryl Galloway of Burlington.

The traditional meal featured turkey, gravy, corn and all the fixings.

Sweetwaters traditionally opened up their restaurant for a sitdown meal for anyone in the community, no questions asked.

This year, Everyone Eats Chittenden, which is a government-funded organization that purchases meals from restaurants to give to those in need, stepped in to help.

“It’s sort of this pinnacle of the seasons changing and it’s getting really cold and food access is always an issue and people are hungry all times of year, but it’s especially getting colder now,” said Emma Gonzalez the program coordinator of Everyone Eats.

The Farmhouse Group, which is relocating their Italian restaurant Pascolo to the old Sweetwaters space, also stepped up, donating 400 Thanksgiving meals free of charge to the effort.

“I was really hurt that Sweetwaters was closing because of that and I’m really glad that somebody picked up where they left off,” said Shawn Gero of Burlington.

Those taking part on Wednesday explained how difficult it can be not knowing where the next meal is coming from.

“That’s huge. You wake up as a kid, your parents are taking care of you, there’s food. When you’re homeless, I guess you’re foraging most of the day,” Galloway said.

Everyone Eats organized 600 meals to be distributed this year. The news of free food traveled by word of mouth through the community.

“I’ve seen people sleeping in coves under everywhere. I feel for them. I feel bad because you know they feel society gave up on them, but with these kinds of meals, it puts a little more hope in their hearts,” Gero said.

Those we spoke to also hope that another iteration of Sweetwaters sitdown meal-style could come back in the years to come.

Pascolo is expected to open in the old Sweetwaters space sometime this winter.