http://almanacnews.com/print/story/print/2012/11/21/holiday-fund-thanksgiving-dinner-for-1000


Almanac

Cover Story - November 21, 2012

Holiday Fund: Thanksgiving dinner for 1,000

For 39 years St. Anthony's Padua Dining Room has been providing hot meals and a safe, warm place to eat

by Jane Knoerle

You're expecting maybe 10 for Thanksgiving dinner and you've been planning, shopping, and cooking for days.

Multiply your guest list a hundredfold. That's how many guests St. Anthony's Padua Dining Room in Menlo Park is expecting to walk through its doors on Thursday, Nov. 22. And those dining at St. Anthony's will be treated as graciously as if they were guests in your home.

The food, prepared under the direction of Chef Juventino Vargas, will be delicious: roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, fresh vegetables, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. Worried your turkey won't turn out right? Imagine preparing 100 to 125 of the big birds, along with 250 pounds of sweet potatoes, 150 pounds of mashed potatoes, and 100 pounds of zucchini.

Dining room manager Max Torres is hoping to have the tables bright with orange and yellow coverings. Leo Kusber of Woodside is bringing pumpkins and corn from his yard to be used as decoration. Green tree branch cuttings and orange and yellow streamers will add to the festive atmosphere.

Forty volunteers will serve the Thanksgiving meal. Helping out on Thanksgiving is so popular that volunteers have to draw numbers to participate.

St. Anthony's Padua Dining Room has been providing a free meal in a safe, friendly place since the early 1970s. Peter Kasenchak of Skyline, chairman of the St. Anthony's advisory council, says: "We don't check guests, we just serve them. Who are we to judge?"

On a recent Thursday, Mr. Kasenchak bustled around the dining room, seeing everything was moving smoothly. He has been a volunteer for eight years and spends three to four days a week at St. Anthony's.

A fellow resident of Skyline, Kathy Craig, has been a volunteer for 11 years. She has worked every position, but basically stays on the line. "I do the salads," she says. She likes being a hands-on volunteer. "I'm not a fundraiser. Max (Torres) is wonderful to work with, the kindest man I ever met. The clients are always so positive. It's a pleasure to be here."

Ms. Craig, who is a senior aerobics instructor, teaches four days a week and also volunteers at Ronald McDonald House. Other local women working that day included Menlo Park residents Margaret Chiu, who was slicing bread and serving dessert, and Mary Driscoll. "I'm an expert with forks and bread," she said with a laugh, adding: "These are wonderful people that work here."

Another volunteer, Ellenrose Goddard of Atherton, does her volunteering earlier in the day. At 8:45 a.m. six days a week, she shows up at Dreager's Supermarket in Menlo Park. She visits the deli, bakery, and floral departments. "They have everything ready for me," she says. Everything ranges from pots of miniature roses and hydrangeas to salads, grilled salmon, tri-tip, macaroni and cheese, and enchiladas, to cookies and pies. Ms. Goddard then delivers all these high-quality goodies to St. Anthony's in time for the lunch crowd. "It's a wonderful way to start the day," she says.

While Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter are the big events, St. Anthony's needs continue throughout the year. The dining room is open six days a week (closed Sunday). The day after Thanksgiving, there will again be a line of some 500 folks expecting a hot meal.

On the day we visited, lunch included green salad, hard boiled eggs, spaghetti, zucchini, cantaloupe, breads, beverages and an array of desserts. Many of the guests also carried bags of take-home groceries that are available at the end of the serving line.

Gerardo, who was having lunch with his mother, said they walk over for lunch almost every day. Fermin, another guest, said St. Anthony's was "a blessing from God. The food is like homemade." Although he is working, Fermin is living in his truck.

While it is a little late to donate food for Thanksgiving dinner, Max Torres reminds us that donations of frozen turkeys, hams, cranberries, canned tuna, tomato sauce, pasta, noodles and other staples are always welcome. Large quantities of single items are preferred. Donations may be brought or sent to St. Anthony's Padua Dining Room, 3500 Middlefield Road, Menlo Park, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Cash, checks and credit card donations are still the most popular ways to make a charitable gift. Major credit cards are accepted. Donations may be made by mail, in person, or online.

Visit paduadiningroom.com or call 365-9664 for more information.

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