2013 1129 thanksgiving meals
Church of the Harvest volunteers serve free meals to residents on Thanksgiving. File photo: Peter Blasl

Instead of celebrating Thanksgiving Day with their families, a group of local volunteers is spending the day serving free meals to those who may not have families of their own.

The Church of the Harvest’s kitchen basement has been bustling with activity all morning as volunteers prepare the annual Thanksgiving feast for the community. Eighteen turkeys have been donated this year, along with desserts, potatoes and a variety of vegetables from the church’s food pantry.

Aside from the turkeys, which are already cooked when they are delivered, everything is being prepared on-site.

“This is a blessing for people who would have to spend Thanksgiving alone,” Lesley Whelen, church secretary, said in an interview yesterday. “We just don’t like the idea of people being alone or in need on a holiday.”

At 11 a.m., the church’s doors will open and welcome the community inside for the feast. Volunteers will begin loading up their cars and vans with take-out containers stuffed with traditional Thanksgiving fare, which will be delivered to more than 200 homes locally.

During their delivery trips around town, volunteers will also make stops to pick up residents from their homes who have requested transportation to the church.

Another hundred people or so will come and dine inside the church’s sanctuary, which has been filled with tables and chairs and decorated for the occasion.

“We try to make it as festive as we can, so people feel like they’re maybe eating at a restaurant for Thanksgiving,” Whelen said.

The bulk of the church’s free meals, though, will be delivered to a list of homes who have requested the service. A good portion of these are located in John Wesley Village, a retirement community on Middle Road.

“We get calls from people who say, ‘None of my family is coming this year, so we would like to come and spend the holiday with you,’” Whelen said. “We also get calls from other people who are homebound, asking us to deliver a meal, and that’s what we do.”

Church of the Harvest has been providing free meals on Thanksgiving for more than 30 years. For most of that time, the event was held at the Riverhead Grill on East Main Street. It was moved to the church’s sanctuary about five years ago.

The church also holds a free pancake breakfast on Christmas morning. “We picked those two holidays because they are family holidays, and people need to be with other people,” Whelen said. “If they come here, they have a sense of family. If they come here, they’re not all alone.”

Thanksgiving meals will be served at the church from 11 a.m. to 2 pm. today. Transportation to the church and home meal delivery can be requested by calling (631) 727-1977.

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Katie, winner of the 2016 James Murphy Cub Reporter of the Year award from the L.I. Press Club, is a co-publisher of RiverheadLOCAL. A Riverhead native, she is a 2014 graduate of Stony Brook University. Email Katie