By Catherine Twing, Contributing Writer
Westborough – Anna Sylvester has never had to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving. That task belongs to her husband Bob — and this year he’ll be cooking 18 of them.
For 48 of the past 49 years, Bob Sylvester has served as lead chef for the Westborough Community Thanksgiving, held at the Knights of Columbus Hall, located on 17 Willow St. The meal is open to anyone who wants to attend with 137 meals served in the hall last year and 42 meals delivered.
An undertaking of this size requires the support of the entire community. Even with four commercial ovens, cooking begins Wednesday morning and goes until the meal begins Thanksgiving Day. Over 100 volunteers manage everything from event management, to cooking, packing meals and cleaning up.
“What makes the event so special for me is watching both the folks coming to join us for the meal and the volunteers – especially the families coming together to deliver a meal together to someone in need,” said event co-chair Joe Pucciarelli.
For the first 40 years the event was hosted by area churches. When they were unable to continue hosting, residents and community groups found a way to carry on the tradition.
Sylvester became involved the first year and has been cooking for the event ever since, except for one year when he was undergoing treatment for cancer.
“It’s something I enjoy immensely,” Sylvester said. “It’s the best day of the year for me.”
He has watched the numbers increase over the years from 30 to 40 meals provided by area churches, to over 100 meals provided by dedicated community members.
The organizing committee comprised of Westborough residents is what really pulls everything together. In addition to Pucciarelli, the committee includes Tom Shea, Tari Shea, Jay Woodman and Annie Pucciarelli.
“It’s a chance I get to see a lot of folks I don’t see throughout the year,” said Woodman. “The giving back to the community — it’s a lot of work, but a lot of fun.”
Many volunteers like Woodman and Sylvester got their families involved, continuing the tradition.
“It’s really a generational thing. Children get involved and take the place of their parents,” Woodman said.
Woodman is a member of the Knights of Columbus and has been involved for about 10 years. His role includes shopping for food items which began in early October and will continue through November as he collects the turkeys from Roche Brothers and vegetables from other local suppliers.
The organizers rely heavily on community groups and businesses for donations, and the list is impressive: Knights of Columbus, Westborough Council on Aging, Westborough Girl Scouts, In Your Shoes, Chick-fil-A, and Bertucci’s, just to name a few.
The Women of St. Luke’s bring pies, a group from Congregation B’nai Shalom bring desserts and McDonald’s provides breakfast for the volunteers.
“It is such a broad cross-section of Westborough that comes together,” Pucciarelli said. “When you go to the hall you have a 100 people there plus a 100 volunteers. This is one of the events that makes Westborough so special.”
Attendees come from all walks of life. In the early years the focus was citizens over 65. While you’ll still find these folks at the tables, you’ll also find young families, truckers and people away from loved ones for one reason or another.
As the event continues to grow, more planning and more volunteers are needed. Planning begins just after Labor Day and volunteer recruitment ramps up in late October.
“With many people being generous, but not having to bear the whole burden, we can make something like this work,” Pucciarelli said.
Anyone interested in attending or in need of a meal delivered on Thanksgiving should call 508-366-3000 before Monday, Nov. 25.
Interested volunteers or donors can email t[email protected] or call 508-366-2852.