BURLINGTON, Vt. – For 31 years, people in need of a hot meal on Thanksgiving have been able to count on volunteers at Sweetwaters American Bistro in Burlington to be there.

Typically, over 100 volunteers show up to help cook, package and distribute meals.
They say over the years, a sense of community has built up.

“There’s so many people that have come out of the woodworks that I’ve never seen before in Burlington,” said Sadie MacKinnon, a restaurant employee who offered to help out on Thursday.

Volunteers came from near and far, united in their efforts to ensure nobody in the Queen City went hungry.

“I’m in the Navy, I had some free time down in Groton, Connecticut so I just figured why not come up and help out?” said Sean Young. “This is the type of stuff I enjoy to do on holidays.”

It’s been a Turkey Day tradition since 1990, and for a lot of folks, the annual volunteer effort has taken on a greater meaning.

John Wagner has been at it for 25 years.

“I don’t have family in town, so I come here and I’m able to help out,” Wagner said. “There are just people that you only see once a year, you come here, you see them, and it’s like your family.”

Sue Reardon started volunteering nine years ago with her son as part of a high school project he was working on.

“Many of the volunteers have been here 5, 10, 15 years, so that’s really nice to see them,” Reardon said. “This has just been such a great resource and the fact that we’ve been able to do this through the pandemic has met a lot to a lot of people.”

In the kitchen, it was certainly a busy afternoon. Staff said volunteers helped prepare 120 pounds of cranberry sauce, 300 pounds of corn, 800 pounds of mashed potatoes, and 2,000 pounds of turkey.

“Obviously with COVID right now, it’s all to-go,” said Owner David Melincoff. “But it’s just as special, because a lot of people are displaced, food insecure, or COVID took them from their normal routine and it’s just a nice way to give back to the community.”

Volunteers didn’t mind a busy day in the kitchen – it was all about giving back.

“That’s just always my mantra in life, you know I see someone around me needs help, I’m there for them, try to give them my all,” Young said.

“I just wanted to help out the homeless, I’ve been doing this since last year and this is my second time back,” said Dan Goodrow. “It’s been a good time, I love it, it’s really fun.”