The tables at the Grand Central Station Dining Car were dressed for the season with holiday decorations and tablecloths when the soup kitchen opened its doors Thursday morning. Instead of lining up at a window to receive their meals, visitors sat down at the decorated tables as volunteers took their orders from small paper menus.
These extra touches helped ensure everyone was well fed and cared for this Thanksgiving.
“This is to celebrate and give thanks to and with each other,” Executive Director Karen Bray said.
Volunteers with the soup kitchen started preparing at 7 a.m. for the crowds of up to 200 people that were expected to come for the annual Thanksgiving lunch. This is the seventh year that the soup kitchen has provided a meal of turkey, stuffing and all the usual holiday trappings.
On an average weekday, Bray said, the kitchen will see about 100 to 150 people come for free meals and the other services offered by the kitchen. However, Bray said Thanksgiving brings enough crowds that they have to rotate diners to allow for the crowds. With schools in the area out for the holiday, Bray said the kitchen often sees many children comes for lunch, adding to the crowd.
“A lot of these people don’t have families,” Bray said. “They don’t have homes. Some even live out of their cars.”
Bray said about 16 volunteers worked the lunch shift over Thanksgiving. Most of them have been doing it for years, with one family coming from as far away as McKinney to help serve meals. Bray said they have been volunteering for the past five Thanksgivings.
For this year’s Thanksgiving lunch service, the soup kitchen was prepared with 18 turkeys, six hams and more than 30 pies of various flavors, Kitchen Manager Ben Merrill said, as two industrial refrigerators full of food for Thursday sat behind him. Merrill said he did the majority of the food prep on Tuesday, but some items, including gravy, still needed to be made fresh Thursday.
Merrill added that Thanksgiving is easily the busiest day for the soup kitchen each year. While the kitchen offers a Christmas meal each year on Christmas Eve, Merrill said it comes second to Thanksgiving.