On Thanksgiving Day in 1963, President John F. Kennedy addressed his country with a proclamation saying, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
For 38 years, Thanksgiving for Paso Robles (Paso Thanksgiving) has, in their own way, tried to live by this ideal. The nonprofit, spearheaded by Mildred Watkin, is a celebration of thanks serving over 1,500 men, women, and children from all communities, a traditional Thanksgiving meal at no cost. A true expression of community that brings diverse people together to share the day with others.
Paso Thanksgiving Chairman David Kudija explains, “We turn Centennial Park into a restaurant for the day. We are proud to serve it [Thanksgiving dinner] that way.”
One hundred percent funded by donations and run by volunteers, it costs about $9,000 and 200 people to put on the annual dinner. Volunteers begin prepping and cooking the meals on Monday and are ready to serve almost 2,000 people by Thanksgiving Thursday.
On Thanksgiving Day, up to 200 meals will be donated to the El Camino Homeless Shelter (ECHO), and even more meals will be brought to the homeless around town.
However, David wants people to know that Paso Thanksgiving is for those in need of a meal and good company.
“We welcome everybody either from a financial or a social need. There are a lot of people that just want to be with someone on special days like this, and we welcome them.”
In recent years, the nonprofit has found challenges with the rise in the cost of food as well as a food shortage. Rather than placing his meat order in November, David had to reserve his order for meat in September.
“Food has gone up [in cost] tremendously, even more so than last year. We continue to seek funds,” he explains.
Paso Thanksgiving holds a special place in David’s heart. He says he has lived a good life and experienced much — some of which include learning to fly a plane and jumping out of a good one. But he had yet to find something that he loved enough to stick with until he found Paso Thanksgiving over 30 years ago.
“There are very few things where I have said I want to spend time doing this and keeping it up, and Paso Thanksgiving is one of those few things,” David, who also heads the Bean Feed for Paso Robles Pioneer Days, shared.
One of his aspirations for Paso Thanksgiving is to get more volunteer involvement from some younger generations, something he adds the Pioneer Day nonprofit does well. Putting together the annual dinner is truly a community effort, and David’s thanks go out to all who make it happen, including the fire department, who help with the big cleanup after the forks are put down.
This year’s dinner menu includes:
- Oven Roasted Turkey
- Mashed Potatoes & Gravy Dressing
- Mixed Vegetables
- Candied Yams
- Cranberry Sauce
- Housebaked Pies
Guests have an option to enjoy a sit-down meal, or if coming down to the park is not an option, volunteers are more than happy to deliver a meal to them.
Serving dinner from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m., all are welcome to enjoy a hand-cooked sit-down Thanksgiving meal at no cost.
For those who are homebound, they have volunteers to deliver a warm Thanksgiving meal. Call the committee at (805) 239-4137 by November 20 to schedule a delivery.
“Everyone is welcome,” says David. “We would love to see as many community members there as we can.”
For more information on Thanksgiving for Paso Robles or to sign up to volunteer or donate, visit thanksgivingforpasorobles.com
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