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When the Cook Got Covid, Greenwich Volunteers Stepped up to Help

Written and photographed by Ken Borsuk

November 23, 2022

GREENWICH – Cooking for Thanksgiving can be stressful enough when it's for five or even 10 people.

Now imagine it's for 500 people and it's as an emergency fill-in for a nonprofit after their would-be cook came down with COVID.

When Greenwich residents Sak Seedasome and Alston Calabrese heard about the challenge facing Barbara’s House, formerly known as Community Centers Inc., they quickly stepped up. Along with other two volunteer chefs, they spent days working 12-hours in the kitchen to make sure the Thanksgiving food and prepared meals were ready for distribution Wednesday morning.

State and town officials joined volunteers from Barbara's House and St. Roch Church to make sure more than 500 people in need throughout Greenwich did not go hungry on Thanksgiving.

“I am fortunate enough to not go hungry and you’ve got to give back,” Seedasome said. “That’s the main thing. If you can’t think about others at Thanksgiving, then when can you think of them?”

“My biggest joy in life is cooking for and feeding other people,” Calabrese said, her voice choked up. “As parents in this community, I want to make sure my kids have perspective and can see the bigger picture outside of their bubble. My kids were here packing boxes and putting stickers on trays. We had so many volunteers (on Tuesday) here making pumpkin bread to put in boxes for seniors and I want my kids to see the importance of service. To see the friends and the community come together is so wonderful.”

State Rep. Elect Hector Arzeno helped volunteer driver Kristina Oka, who was dressed quite appropriately for the event, bring Thanksgiving food to people in need.

According to Gaby Ratner, executive director of Barbara’s House, volunteers distributed 55 boxes Wednesday that included fresh turkeys to be cooked for Thanksgiving and side dishes like sweet potatoes, stuffing, yams, onions, green beans and gravy along with pumpkin pies. The boxes also had milk, butter, seasoning and baby food in them. Additionally, 90 meals were taken to local seniors and food was prepared for the staff and families at Kids in Crisis in Cos Cob.

“This all started Sunday morning,” Seedasome said Wednesday. “The cooking didn’t end until last night.”

In total, Rattner said, more than 500 people benefited from the hard work and hundreds of volunteers who donated their time and food.

“The whole point of this was to help our friends get together and create a sense of community and teach our kids about giving back,” said Tony Calabrese, Alston’s husband. “This is the second year we have done it and it’s really highlighting all that Barbara’s House and Kids in Crisis are doing all year round. We’re just diving in on Thanksgiving.”

The Calabreses first thought about coupling food and volunteering when they saw a post on the social networking platform Nextdoor. A local chef named Juan Benitez wanted to cook for people in need and it spurred their own desire to get involved. Loving the idea, Tony Calabrese volunteered to raise the money needed for the ingredients. Food for Fairfield – as they christened their little group – quickly took off.

Sak Seedasome helps load up the cars with bags containing full meals to go to local seniors in need for Thanksgiving.

“We had more money and more volunteers than we knew what to do with," Tony Calabrese said.

Benitez reached out to organizations in Greenwich to see who might need their help, and Barbara’s House quickly saw the potential. Benitez was all set to take point on cooking this year's Thanksgiving meals to go out to the community, like he did last year, when he suddenly tested positive for COVID, Tony Calabrese said. That's when Seedasome – Benitez's neighbor and a more recent addition to Food for Fairfield – and Alston Calabrese stepped up to handle Benitez's responsibilities.

Calabrese said he saw so many people eager to give their time and effort and do it on short notice too. He called the heavy hours his wife, Seedasome and others put in on this as “panic cooking.”

Town Clerk Jackie Budkins and Selectperson Janet Stone McGuigan were helping load up the cars with boxes of food that will help residents eat a Thanksgiving meal.

“It’s surprising how giving the community is,” he said. “It was really humbling to know that so many people are looking to give back to the community. I don’t think people realize how many people are living in need in Greenwich. We want to give back.”

“I’ve been teary eyed all week to see all the hard work that people have put in,” Rattner said. “The holiday season is my favorite time of year because of the generosity and the outpouring we get. It’s astonishing and when you see the faces of the people you are helping, it’s indescribable.”

Reprinted courtesy of Greenwich Time


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