People in need will still be able to have a Thanksgiving meal next week, although it will not be in the typical festive setting, surrounded by fellow diners and community volunteers, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to force the cancellation of or significant changes to community events in Harford County.
The Havre de Grace community dinner is still on for Thanksgiving day at the Havre de Grace Community Center on Lagaret Lane, although there will be no in-person meal service and there will be strict limits on the number of volunteers allowed in the community center. Nobody younger than 18 will be allowed to work inside.
“We feel we can still hold the event, but we will be limiting the number of volunteers in the building,” said Fred Wills, co-chair of the Thanksgiving Dinner Committee, part of the nonprofit Community Projects of Havre de Grace.
Organizers want to comply with recent orders by Gov. Larry Hogan limiting the number of people who can participate in an indoor event, plus their committee is working to minimize the number of people involved to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. Committee members had considered canceling the dinner last week as the number of COVID-19 cases in Maryland and Harford County climbed, and Hogan announced a number of restrictions, but they decided to proceed.
“The committee collectively feels a warm meal to so many people who wouldn’t have one is important,” Wills said. “We need to just get the job done with as minimal exposure as possible.”
The group working inside the community center will be restricted to only adults doing meal preparation, while people of all ages can take part in delivering meals to people in Cecil and Harford counties — more than 1,100 meals had been ordered as of Monday, according to Wills. About 250 to 300 volunteers, including families and groups of friends, participated in last year’s community dinner.
Organizers are trying to keep the number of volunteers this year to a “bare minimum to produce and deliver the meals.” The dinner has, in past years, been “a family affair,” according to Wills, as parents and children interact with guests and youths work on the serving line.
“I regret not being able to provide that experience to the volunteers this year, but obviously caution is paramount,” said Wills, who noted that participants should wear masks.
Gloves will be provided, plus there will be temperature checks at the door. Those who want to volunteer can go online and find a waiver form that they should fill out and bring with them, or Wills will have copies that can be filled out on site.
People delivering meals should arrive at the community center after 9 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 26. They should remain in their vehicles and look for volunteers in reflective vests, who will direct them to an area where cards with the recipients’ addresses and the meals will be brought out to them.
People can either request a meal, or they can come to the community center between 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Nov. 26 to pick up a meal curbside. Anybody who wants to volunteer or order a meal should contact committee co-chair Don Osman at 410-939-5412 or 443-243-7493; anyone who wants to make a donation should contact Wills at 732-614-6178.
“The bottom line is, I ask everyone’s patience,” Wills said. “This is not the way we wanted to do this, but we have to.”
Hope in Action, a ministry of the White Marsh-based Central Christian Church, has been hosting its community Thanksgiving dinner in Bel Air for the past decade, but the 11th annual dinner will not happen this year.
Instead, Hope in Action volunteers will partner with Edgewood-based Breathe 379 to deliver meals to people in need on Sunday, Nov. 22, according to Melanie Rimel-Holloway, coordinator of the dinner.
“With the whole COVID [pandemic], we decided that it would be better to seek out people who were shut in their homes and still provide them with a meal,” Rimel-Holloway said.
About 100 guests attended last year’s dinner at the Bel Air Armory, where they could interact with volunteers and were treated to live entertainment from youth and adult performers. Hope in Action’s community dinner typically happens on the Sunday before Thanksgiving.
The Armory serves as a satellite campus for Central Christian Church, and Hope in Action usually provides a meal to the community after Sunday services each week. The church has not been able to do so during the pandemic, though.
“Hopefully we’re going to get back to that, as soon as COVID goes by,” Rimel-Holloway said.
People can donate non-perishable food for the Thanksgiving meal and drop off items at the Breathe 379 Hope Center, 2124 Nuttal Ave. in Edgewood, or they can contribute money online through the Breathe website. People also can visit the Hope in Action and Breathe 379 pages on Facebook for more information.
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Rimel-Holloway said “it would break my heart” to turn away someone who came seeking a holiday meal, noting that “we can still use our hands to serve God’s people with sending out the meals.”