As with all our thoroughly Americanized and commercialized holidays, Thanksgiving is a marketing powerhouse, the true meaning of the holiday long buried beneath reams of wispy orange and brown streamers, turkey-shaped confetti and Miss Crocker’s boxed goods. But we’re lucky enough to live in Asheville, where at least a half-dozen organizations are devoted to furthering the concepts of generosity and gratitude — breaking down barriers by breaking bread.
These institutions are committed all year long to uniting community through the common bond of good food, and at Thanksgiving, they shine. During this year’s holiday, Asheville’s nonprofits (and some for-profits, too) will host gatherings where folks from all walks of life can huddle around tables wooden and plastic, wobble-legged and wheeled, to share a meal and stories of thankfulness.
GO Kitchen Ready’s Southside Community Thanksgiving Dinner
Students of Green Opportunities’ Kitchen Ready program (a free, 15-week course that prepares local low-income adults for culinary positions in the food-service industry) get to use their archetypal whetstones and sharpen their literal knives in the Southside Kitchen, the program’s soul food eatery. Southside Kitchen serves as a true restaurant and interactive classroom for students, who prepare, cook and serve three weekly lunches for guests and special pop-up dinners — all free of charge.
If the weekly lunches are an invaluable learning experience for members of the program and attendees alike, they’re nothing compared to the annual Southside Community Thanksgiving dinner, judging from sheer numbers alone. Last year students prepared 20 turkeys for over 500 guests, and the celebration is only expected to grow. This year, the third annual Southside Community Thanksgiving Dinner will be held 5-7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 22, in the gymnasium of the Arthur R. Edington Education & Career Center, 133 Livingston St.
This bounteous feast isn’t just a meal, it’s a celebration of community and an opportunity for collaboration between some of the region’s greatest organizations. Local civic leaders, including Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer, District Attorney Todd Williams, Assistant Fire Chief Wayne Hamilton and Asheville Housing Authority neighborhood outreach coordinator and former Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy, will pick up their ladles and help serve the crowds of community members expected at this year’s dinner. In addition to the hundreds of meals for anticipated guests, GO students will also prepare an additional 200 meals to be delivered by AHA vans to local elderly folks unable to join in the festivities.
More than anything, the Southside Community Thanksgiving Dinner (like so many similar celebrations around town) is an opportunity for Asheville at large — rich and poor, young and old — to gather together over good food. “This meal is an important example of fellowship through food and eating to live, not living to eat,” says chef Liam Luttrell-Rowland, who directs the GO Kitchen Ready Program.
To learn more about the program or its meal schedule, look for “GO Kitchen Ready” under “What We Do” at greenopportunities.org.
Haywood Street Congregation’s Thanksgiving Feast
Haywood Street Congregation’s Downtown Welcome Table is the antithesis of a traditional soup kitchen. Guests of all backgrounds receive the same experience: Serving dishes weighted with fresh fare are delivered by volunteer waitstaff to large, round tables set with china plates, fresh flowers and cloth napkins. Guests pass the food around the table family-style, serving each other and making new friends. It’s a meal where poverty and privilege fade and the proverbial princes and paupers dine in companionable solidarity.
When the holidays roll around, the mission of Downtown Welcome Table grows to encompass the magic of the season. “The intention with our holiday meals is to re-create the family dinner table on a special occasion,” says Laura Kirby, executive director of Haywood Street Congregation. “We hope for it to be the same scene that is played out all over Asheville on Thanksgiving and Christmas: old friends and long-lost relatives welcomed back with open arms. Plenty of laughter and stories shared. Good food and lots of it. Favorite family recipes mixed with holiday classics.”
All are welcome at HSC’s Thanksgiving Feast on Wednesday, Nov. 23, with seatings at 10:30 a.m. and 11:15 a.m., noon and 12:45 p.m. at the Haywood Street Congregation, 297 Haywood St.
For details on the work of the Haywood Street Congregation, visit haywoodstreet.org.
12 Baskets Thanksgiving Lunch
Our city’s fledgling foodcentric nonprofit program, 12 Baskets Café, is a product of the Asheville Poverty Initiative. The café is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, serving lunch to folks of all types using untouched, quality castoffs from local hot bars, buffets and groceries. The organization embodies the idiom “waste not, want not,” even as it fosters the emergence of a new kind of community.
“Our goal is to build relationships, because only through getting to know our neighbors — all our neighbors — will we be able to recognize there is no such thing as only a ‘have’ or a ‘have not,’” says the Rev. Shannon Spencer, director of the API. “Hanging out and getting to know each other over delicious, quality food served in a dignified manner truly empowers each of us.”
An extended lunch service will be offered from 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, Nov. 24, at 12 Baskets Café, 610 Haywood Road (below Firestorm Books and Coffee). The meal will celebrate the Asheville community and all who reside within it as well as our shared love for good food. “There is enough for us all,” says Spencer, “and that is what we celebrate.”
More information about the Asheville Poverty Initiative is available at ashevillepovertyinitiative.org.
Thanksgiving Potluck at the Cathedral of All Souls
Following a special service on Thanksgiving Day, Biltmore Village’s stunning Cathedral of All Souls will host a potluck in celebration of the holiday. After the adjournment of the 10:30 a.m. worship service, the church offers a feast of turkey, cornbread dressing and giblet gravy, supplemented with a bevy of trimmings and treats to be provided by guests. Tickets are just $5 each with a $15 cap for families. The meal takes place 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. at 9 Swan St. in Biltmore Village.
Annual ThanksVegan Dinner at The BLOCK Off Biltmore
Celebrate the season without the meat at the BLOCK Off Biltmore. In partnership with the Asheville Vegan Society, the BLOCK will host its second Thanksgiving Day potluck dinner on Thursday, Nov. 24, beginning with a cocktail hour at 4:30 p.m. and dinner at 5:30 p.m. The meal will be followed by The BLOCK’s regular open-mic event at 7:30 p.m. Guests are encouraged to bring a plant-based dish that will feed five or more. A suggested $10 donation will benefit local nonprofit Animal Haven, which rescues abandoned, abused and neglected farm animals. The BLOCK Off Biltmore is at 39 S. Market St.
Community Thanksgiving Dinner at Blue Mountain Pizza
This Weaverville pizza purveyor will put aside the dough and crank out a traditional Thanksgiving feast for locals this Turkey Day. As a token of gratitude for the community, Blue Mountain Pizza hosts this free Thanksgiving Day dinner from noon-3 p.m. every year for the needy and lonely alike. The menu will include favorites like turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and pies, all offered free of charge for those who wish to stop by. Blue Mountain Pizza is at 55 N. Main St., Weaverville.