A Turkey Day Tradition at Bridgeview Community

By November 24, 2022November 22nd, 2023No Comments

Bridgeview is New Narrative’s transitional housing program serving houseless individuals as they transition into permanent housing. It is the only program of its type in the tri-county area, with staff available on site 24/7 to support residents, including Clinical and Housing specialist services. This low-barrier, short-term housing allows individuals to build a positive rental history while obtaining treatment and essential life skills training. By providing this crucial steppingstone in the housing continuum, the Bridgeview Community is an essential part of many people’s journeys to stable housing and a life of their choosing.

The Beginning

Thirty years ago, Judy Stafford’s son came home in November with a troubled expression and a question for her. His then-partner, a social worker at Bridgeview Community, had told him that she had wished the staff could provide some kind of Thanksgiving meal for the residents there, but there weren’t enough resources or funding to make it work. Judy thought about it, and then she and her husband called up some neighbors, rallied some of their church friends, and in a true act of community they managed to find enough supplies to constitute a feast. While Judy procured the majority of the ingredients, people also brought side dish fixings.

Although the first few years they were able to drop off ingredients to be cooked by staff, she found out it wasn’t sustainable for them. When Bridgeview staff confessed they couldn’t keep preparing the ingredients for the meal, she managed to coordinate the different dishes doled out between her friends, who took the ingredients home and brought the finished products to her house. Huge pans of green bean casseroles, heaping trays of stuffing, fruit cocktails with whipped cream, sweet potatoes dusted with brown sugar and browning marshmallows, trays of pickled vegetables, an assortment of pies, and the turkeys were delivered at her doorstep. With the help of her husband and his closest friends, they loaded the food up into a van and delivered it to staff by around noon on the day it would be served.

Judy remembers that quality ingredients were always a priority for her. “I wanted to do a Thanksgiving dinner like I would want to serve and eat,” she said. Every dish was home-cooked with care. The volunteers loved it so much that they kept coming back, year after year, to help out. “We didn’t even attend the actual event,” she remarked. “We just loved getting to be a part of the process.” Although the group has changed over the years, her now-late husband’s four friends are still shopping for and delivering the meal – 17 years after her husband passed away. One volunteer has been baking six homemade pumpkin pies every year for 25 years, still going strong. “It really is nice to get to see people when they bring the food. The people that give their time and money are very generous and love doing it.” It usually takes around 32 volunteers each year to pull off the event, and it’s always a juggling act to coordinate those providing the food and those delivering. This has been made slightly easier since Bridgeview’s move to a new property, where they are now able to cook the ingredients in their industrial kitchen on-site.

Back in the (Turkey) Game

This year, as the rain came down outside, Bridgeview staff were busy decorating tables covered with bright tangerine tablecloths in anticipation of their annual Thanksgiving meal celebration. Holly Johnson, Bridgeview’s Daily Operations Manager, was especially excited. “This is our favorite event of the year,” she said. Nearby staff nodded, confirming that today’s meal was the highlight of the season. Small gourds lined the center of each table, picked from a recent group outing to a nearby pumpkin patch. There were enough seats to comfortably fit at least thirty people.

Staff members Holly and Beth prepare the dining area

Staff prepare the dining area

Bridgeview’s program structure offers residents something special: three complimentary meals a day, made by dedicated staff. Residents usually come up to the serving window to take their food and find a place to sit in the stunning dining area, where bright stained glass creates beautiful patterns across the floor. In the world of transitional housing, these meals are a big deal. “Residents keep their EBT cards,” Holly noted. “We strive hard to continue to find the funding to provide this meal service.” New Narrative emphasizes promoting independence for participants within its programs, and residents keeping their EBT cards is just one more way to give them more flexibility as they get back on their feet.

There was extra cause to celebrate this year: this would be the first sit-down Thanksgiving-style lunch they had been able to host since COVID hit in 2020. “During a normal year, the Thanksgiving meal runs a little differently than a regular meal,” Holly said. “During the Thanksgiving meal, the residents seat themselves and staff are the ones who bring food and drinks to them. We get to serve them for that meal,” she smiled. It had been hard during the height of COVID to make the experience meaningful, but the staff still made and packaged up the food for each resident to take up to their rooms and eat. “It wasn’t the same,” she said sadly.

Staff pose with boxed meals in 2021

Staff pose with boxed meals in 2021

COVID had also presented challenges with food preparation and delivery.  Judy remembered in 2020 how Valerie McArthur-Burton, Bridgeview’s Clinical Services Manager, came to pick up the food in her van as a safety precaution. When the van was finally loaded down with food, it wouldn’t start! “I got to spend some time with her while we were waiting on people to come take a look at the vehicle,” she laughed. “So that turned out all right.”

There have been other memorable moments throughout the years: Valerie recalled a year when a resident stood up in the middle of the meal and gave an impromptu speech about the things he was thankful for. “It was amazing,” she said. Another staff member said the event was a favorite simply because it was festive, and a chance for everyone to be all together.

Turkey Time

As adults of all ages started to trickle in and get seated, Valerie, wearing a blue flannel shirt, chatted with one hesitant resident. “You can totally eat in your room if you want to,” she assured him. Most residents seemed content to sit among peers and be served ginger ale, apple cider, or apple juice while waiting for the main course. Four or five staff dished up plates and the rest of the staff took turns bringing out the meal to each resident. Every great ingredient was there, with more than enough for one serving.

Staff dishing food into plates in tth kitchen

Staff dish food into plates to be served

There was a comfortable buzz of conversation as residents chatted about their Thanksgiving traditions and reflected on their time at Bridgeview. One woman remarked, “I never want to leave. I love it here.” Another man who was a former resident back for the Thanksgiving meal, said, “I went back and forth. Some days I was ready to go! But on others I was so glad this space existed.” He laughed, “I still only live a block away! I can come back and visit!” They all seemed thankful to have this meal in-person this year. “It was lonely,” one resident sighed when they remembered the previous year of eating alone in their room. “So much nicer to have this in-person again.”

As the meal wound down, residents requested “to-go” plates wrapped in plastic to eat later in their rooms. A few wanted seconds or thirds of the delicious pumpkin cheesecake served. It was a sweet wrap-up to another year of this time-honored tradition at Bridgeview.

When asked what motivated Judy to keep putting this event together every year, she sounded thoughtful. “I just can’t stop doing it,” she admitted. “Every year I think, maybe this time I’ll pass the baton. But Fall comes around, and I’m back at it. There’s just this thing about it that makes me so happy I’m able to do it. It’s just something I can do that makes a difference, and as long as I can do it I’ll continue to do it.”

Two Bridgeview Staff prepare to serve residents with a meal

Two Bridgeview Staff prepare to serve residents with a meal

New Narrative is able to provide funding for these programs thanks in part to generous donors in our community. If you would like to support mental health and housing security through our work, please consider making a donation this season. We appreciate it!