For the past 10 years St. Augustine’s in Highland has provided Thanksgiving meals, with all the fixings, free to the public. Usually people have been able to sit down inside the school’s gymnasium to share the traditional meal together, but due to the pandemic, that has been curtailed for the last two years. A dedicated crew, however, packed up meals that were given to people who picked them up on Thanksgiving day.
Rich Gorres recalls how he was put in charge of this holiday tradition.
“Father Tom Lutz wanted to do a community dinner and announced at Mass that anyone who wanted to volunteer can come to help,” Gorres said. “My wife says why don’t you go to the [planning] meeting because we’ve done diners in Clintondale and New Paltz. So I go and they start asking questions, and of course me with my big mouth, says this is how you do this and that’s how you do that and I look across the table and Fr. Tom says you’ve got the job.”
Gorres said that first year he had only four weeks to put this all together, “and it worked.”
Gorres said the turkeys were all donated and Sal Timperio, of Sal’s Place, cooked them and brought them to St. Augustine. Mark Schmitt took the meat off the bones, sliced them and put them on trays in the refrigerator.
“Everything is set the night before and simply goes in the oven in the morning,” Gorres said.
Two years ago, when people could come to sit down, they served about 170 meals but last year 374 meals were provided to the public on a pick-up basis only during Covid-19.
“This year I just didn’t feel like doing it in-person because I’m still a little leery about what’s going on out there,” he said. “I think it’s safer with pick-up and makes people more comfortable and hopefully next year we’ll do in-house seating.”
Gorres said they receive considerable support for the dinners from St. Augustine’s, St. Joseph’s and Our Lady of Fatima Churches as well as from local agencies and businesses: the Town of Lloyd Police, Townline Auto Center, TRC Auto Repair, Gateway Diner, Copola’s La Fantasia Restaurant, Flavorful Laddle, Red Barn Produce, Kirky’s Deli, Wagon Wheels Deli, On a Roll Deli, Sawyer Savings Bank, D & D Auto Parts, Superior Painting, Catholic Daughters of America and the Knights of Columbus.
“They make my life easier and help out every year,” Gorres said.
Chef Mark Schmitt has also helped at the Thanksgiving dinners since the beginning. Besides slicing and heating up the food, he overseas the making of additional items like mashed potatoes, which takes about four hours to prepare.
When Schmitt became involved in the dinners he operated the Highland Cafe in the hamlet.
“The community was very receptive and it was a great time in my life,” he recalled. “When Rich approached me, it was a no-brainer; I love doing stuff like this.”