A day to be thankful
DOUG LILBURNE, who was working in Sonoma last Thanksgiving and volunteered to help then, came back to help again this year on his way from Australia to New York.
Between the Sonoma Community Center and Vintage House senior center, more than 600 people were treated to Thanksgiving dinners last Thursday.
Last Thanksgiving, New Yorker Doug Lilburne was working at a local winery for crush and stumbled upon the Sonoma Community Center’s Thanksgiving Dinner and offered to help.
This year, Lilburne showed up at the community center Wednesday morning on a stopover from an Australia to New York trip and Thursday morning was mashing potatoes, among other chores.
“Last year, I was living on Eighth Street East, and I saw the lights on and people prepping so I came in and offered to help out,” he said. “They put me to work.”
Lilburne enjoyed the experience so much that he worked Sonoma into his itinerary at Thanksgiving on his way back from Australia. He stuck around Wednesday and Thursday and was going to leave for Los Angeles on Friday.
“I showed up yesterday (Wednesday) and found Gary (Edwards),” he said. A friend in Sonoma put him up on a couch for a couple of nights.
Lilburne has trained as a chef with two years at Johnson and Wales and worked at various restaurants and catering companies before he got into wine.
“Wine brought me out here,” he said. And after doing this (Thanksgiving) last year, I wanted to do it again.”
Lilburne is just one of the estimated 50 to 60 volunteers who served somewhere in excess of 400 meals Thursday at the community center.
“We had 400 plates – and we used them all,” said Tom Montan, the community center’s event manager. In addition to the tables set up in Andrews Hall and in the serving room, people were eating sitting on the steps and on chairs out back.
Volunteers started serving at 3 p.m. and Montan said things were winding down by about 5:30 or 6 p.m. “Thanks to the large amount of volunteers, we were out by about 9,” he said.
While there was plenty of turkey and stuffing to go around, some of the side dishes ran out. Montan said nobody went home hungry and some people took seconds home with them.
“Things seemed to go smoothly,” he said. “Gary’s team made it go so easily.”
Roger Heigel of Sonoma was setting tables, which included tablecloths, placemats and utensils.
Heigel, who said it was the third or fourth time he’s volunteered, said he likes the dinners and volunteering because, “this is where you really get together with your neighbors and friends.”
Michelle Burlitch came over the hill from St. Helena to volunteer for the first time and was also setting tables. “I saw a poster and decided to volunteer. I couldn’t not do it,” she said. “The volunteer process is so well organized. I feel lucky to be here.”
In the kitchen, Katherine Couture, of Sonoma, was cutting turkey. “I did this 14 or 15 years ago,” she said. But this year, her children were having their own Thanksgivings so she volunteered again. “I love to cook,” she said. “And I’ve just got to be in the kitchen.”
One longtime volunteer is Mark Bramfitt, who was running the grill in back of the community center.
“I got here at about 7 (a.m.),” he said. “I was in the kitchen but they sent me outside to grill,” he said. And he was glad it was a pleasant day, unlike the showers a couple of days earlier.
At Vintage House, Sondra Costello, outreach and volunteer coordinator, said volunteers sent 80 meals to shut-ins and served another 120 sit-down meals at the center.
“The Kiwanis delivered the meals to the shut-ins,” Costello said. “They’re an amazing group.”
Costello said this year’s total is down about 50 from last year’s dinners.
“Since this is for seniors who have nowhere else to go, this means they had other plans,” she said.
The dinner is all volunteer driven, she said, which makes it so special.
“We had a young couple from Florida who saw the article in the I-T about needing volunteers,” she said. “They went out for a walk along the bike path and when they saw Vintage House, they walked inside to volunteer.”