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Dan Goldes: A Thanksgiving Story

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A Thanksgiving meal for the homeless is a holiday tradition, and Dan Goldes is there to do his part.

A small item in a local paper catches my eye. Volunteers are needed for the Thanksgiving dinner at a local church, a dinner for the homeless people in the neighborhood. Almost on the spur of the moment, I call and commit to two shifts – prep work at 9 a.m., and serving, beginning at noon.

When I arrive, I see a dozen or more people already at work. “Put on this lovely disposable apron and these rubber gloves,” says Chuck, the volunteer in charge. “Then grab that turkey leg and start slicing.” Our small army quickly fills six large aluminum roasting pans with turkey, chatting about the work and ourselves.

Next come the vegetables. There are no subtleties here: “Cook ‘em til their mushy,” says Chuck. “Our guests don’t have teeth.”

In another room, two dozen pies are being sliced, while huge jars of applesauce and cans of cranberries are poured into Dixie cups, which are placed on trays and stacked.


As each task is finished, we volunteers jump into new ones. While there are, indeed, too many cooks, the spirit that infuses this basement is alive with humanity.

At noon, the guests begin filtering into the basement. Volunteers seat them then come to the kitchen, sending we serving staff into a scurry of activity. We soon find a rhythm: white meat, then dark, then down the line, each plate cared for by five people before it reaches the guest.

Somehow, very quickly, it’s 1:30 and the pace slows. Though the dining room is still humming with activity, my service is no longer needed. I deliberately take my time leaving. I’m inspired by these people – the volunteers, the guests, the young woman who, after slicing turkey and washing dishes, plays the out-of-tune piano so there will be music with the meal. I am almost reluctant to leave.

Like most Thanksgiving meals, the food is the draw here. But the sense of community – at least for me – is the real reward.

With a Perspective, I’m Dan Goldes.

Dan Goldes is a nonprofit consultant and documentary filmmaker in San Francisco.

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