Six days before the official Thanksgiving, about 60 people whet their appetites with a holiday feast at Easterseals Arc of Northeast Indiana. Participants in the Transitions program planned, prepared and served the dinner on Friday, Nov. 22, for themselves, their families and friends.
This was the second year that many of the individuals in Transitions helped stage a Thanksgiving dinner. There were important differences this time. Last year’s dinner was an in-house event at lunchtime for staff and participants at Easterseals Arc. This year, it was a 5:30 p.m. dinner, with the doors opened to visitors invited by program participants.
The Transitions program concentrates on helping young people prepare for employment in the community and stresses community inclusion. It provides counseling for them after high school. They are encouraged to pursue employment goals, explore education opportunities and learn independent living skills.
The underlying objective of the Thanksgiving dinner — besides the obvious payoff of enjoying a good meal — is spotlighting the work many of the Transitions participants are doing.
“It’s a showcase for family and friends for the work we’re doing here,” staff member Danielle Jones said. “It’s not just box meals we’re having here.”
The people in the Transitions program chose the menu, learned about the necessary ingredients, cooperated in preparing the food and finally served it to the family and friends who attended.
“It’s not staff doing it,” Jones said. “If they want it, they have to do it themselves. We’re here to help, but we’re not going to do it for them.”
“I do anything they need,” said Beth, one of the participants in Transitions. “I’m a gofer!”
What Beth spent the most time preparing was a huge mixing bowl of salad — maybe a third of a bushel — filled with lettuce, cabbage and carrots. “We have onions and tomatoes, too, but they’re on the side. Some people don’t like them,” Beth said.
The Transitions crew did not skimp on the menu to simplify their work. It was a traditional spread in traditionally ample quantities: Ham, turkey, salad, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, stuffing, sweet potatoes, two varieties of cheese balls, crackers, veggie trays, dinner rolls, applesauce, homemade pumpkin pie and fruit punch.
Easterseals Arc provided the meat. All the other food came from volunteers who signed up to provide groceries the people in Transitions needed to stage a feast. Jones said Transitions folks spread the work of presenting the dinner over four days, beginning on Tuesday.
One of those provisioning volunteers brought an exceptionally homemade element to the preparations. Jones said her cousin donated several pumpkins, and the Transitions crew pureed the pumpkin pulp to make the filling for pies they served at the dinner.
In one case, Transitions participants did their preparation weeks ago. Earlier this fall, they made and canned applesauce, banking it for a special occasion — such as the Thanksgiving meal Friday.
In retrospect, the crew overestimated guests’ appetite for salad. That’s one of the notes Jones made for the next Thanksgiving dinner. And more stuffing will be one of the tips for next year, as demand outstripped the supply they provided.
Just before dinner was served, one of the Transitions participants called out, “Are we going to say grace?” Jones asked for a volunteer. Matt, also in the Transitions program, spoke up, bent his head in powerful concentration, and prayed for people in his life, beginning with staff members by name. He prayed intently for a minute or more, circling back to name staff members again.
Jones knelt beside him and gently prompted him not to forget to say “amen.” Matt closed his prayer with “amen,” and Jones rose. She smiled, eyes wide, and said, “That was a passionate prayer!”