Annual turkey dinners ensure thanksgiving for all during holiday season

MIDDLEBURY — County residents looking for some company and/or a great meal on Thanksgiving will again have two options at their disposal this year.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7823 on Exchange Street in Middlebury will host its annual Thanksgiving Day dinner, as will the Addison County Eagles Club off New Haven Road in Vergennes. Both meals have traditions dating back at least 20 years and offer a sit-down meal as well as a home-delivery option for shut-ins.
Craig Bingham and Beth Diamond have taken lead roles in the VFW dinner since 1999, and Bingham’s volunteer involvement dates back 25 years to 1987. The VFW initiated the meal decades ago to give a treat to the families of veterans stationed away from home on Thanksgiving, Diamond explained.
The premise was simple, Diamond noted: If you live around here, you’re welcome to share turkey with all the fixings and fellowship at VFW headquarters. VFW Auxiliary volunteers would collect and prepare the food and open the doors to one and all and deliver the meal to shut-ins. No charge, of course, with kids of all ages welcome.
In 1997, Craig met and married Beth Diamond.
“It was in our unwritten pre-nuptial agreement that she would volunteer at the dinner with me,” Bingham said. They took over primary responsibilities for the dinner in 1999, with Craig doing the cooking and Beth setting up the dining room, and with the VFW’s sponsorship and support, they recruited more volunteers and donations of food from local businesses. Since 1999, they’ve added linens, flowers, candles and entertainment for adults and children.
Bingham, formerly a professional cook, begins cooking the meal on the Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving. A group of dedicated folks do a lot of peeling and chopping. Diamond and her helpers arrive early on Thursday morning to set the tables, arrange flowers, and make sure everything runs smoothly.
“The folks who volunteer for this dinner are just the greatest group of people,” Diamond said, “and some bring their children to help as a way of introducing them in a concrete way to the concept of giving.”
The dinner is served buffet-style, at 12:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. There is always enough for seconds, and usually for take-home leftovers as well.
Reservations are helpful, but not necessary. Guests are asked only to bring an appetite, along with any of their friends or neighbors who would also enjoy such a get together. The event routinely includes some Middlebury College students who remain on campus during the holiday.
The dinner this year is being dedicated to the memory of Ed Tucker, who was usually the first person to arrive at the dinner.
In addition to the VFW hosts and volunteer helpers (some of whom bake the pies), Diamond thanked the following for their donations to the dinner: Misty Knoll and Stonewood farms, Elmer Farm, Middlebury Bagel and Deli, Otter Creek Bakery, Greg’s Market and Monument Farms. In addition, Casella donates a credit at Greg’s Market for “incidentals.”
Diamond and Bingham have enjoyed their role in coordinating the dinner for so many years, but are now asking for an infusion of new blood to organize the event going forward.
“We are looking for a couple of people to take on the planning every year,” Diamond said, though she stressed she and Bingham would remain available to volunteer.
“We don’t want this dinner to be the ‘Beth and Craig Show,’” she added.
Anyone requiring transportation or who wants to help may call Beth at 388-9505 up until Wednesday, Nov. 23, or the VFW on Thursday morning at 388-9468. That’s also the number to call for shut-ins to request a home-delivered dinner (call ahead, or the morning of the dinner until noon).
“The most important way to volunteer is to come in and have dinner,” Diamond said. “When people sit around and have dinner together, there is no boundary between them.”
Meanwhile, the Addison County Eagles Club in Vergennes is again planning its annual Thanksgiving dinner, served as usual at noon on Thursday, Nov. 24, at its hall at 67 New Haven Road. The club will also deliver complete meals at 11 a.m. if the recipient is a shut-in living in the Vergennes area.
The club asks that people call before Nov. 21, at 877-2055 after 3 p.m. or drop off a note at the Eagles headquarters to give an indication whether a sit-down meal or delivery is required.
“This is open to everyone in the area who would be spending the day home alone,” reads a release from the club. “Come enjoy good food, fun and fellowship. We are ‘people helping people’ family organization.”
The Addison County Eagles have provided these meals since 1982.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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