Lean holiday for those who need free meal

Thanksgiving may look a little leaner for many in Ashland this year, especially for those who count on a free community meal.

City officials know of no community meals being offered on Thanksgiving in Ashland this year; however, other nonprofit groups will hold two free turkey dinners next week.

"It's a little bit frightening how we've not heard from anyone," said Diana Shiplet, the city's executive secretary. "Generally, we've heard rumors or read something in the paper about something by this point."

The Ashland Emergency Food Bank will be closed on Thanksgiving and is "not doing anything special" for the holiday, but will continue its regular distribution to those in need, said Ann Marie Hutson, food bank vice president.

On Sunday a group of Ashland churches will hold a Thanksgiving potluck, featuring turkey and "the works," organizer William Hayes said. The faith-based gathering will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Pioneer Hall, 73 Winburn Way.

People who want to help out can bring a dish to share, or they can help set up or clean up, by arriving an hour early or staying an hour late. Anyone is welcome to come, even those who don't have food to share, Hayes said.

"If you don't have anything, just bring yourself, just come and share," he said.

For 14 years former Ashland restaurant owner Marty Bryant and the now-defunct Caring Friends nonprofit held a free meal on Thanksgiving at the Historic Ashland Armory and other sites. The event ended in 2005, when Bryant left town, according to Vincent Muolo, who is organizing a similar gathering on Tuesday evening.

The meal will be served between 4:30 and 5:30 p.m. in First United Methodist Church's Wesley Hall, 175 N. Main St.

Muolo, program manager at Uncle Foods Diner, a weekly meal program run by Peace House, expects as many as 100 people to show up, he said.

"There will be no discrimination of any kind. If you're lonely you can come down," Muolo said. "What I say to the rich is, 'You can come down, but I'm going to expect some help from you down the line.'"

Local restaurants and individuals will donate food for the meal, and Ashland Middle School students plan to bake pies for dessert, said Muolo, who daylights as a pastry chef at Larks Home Kitchen Cuisine. To help out with the meal, call Peace House at 482-9625.

Muolo said he has received fewer donations this year because of the economic downturn.

"This year I would tend to think the economy is definitely starting to show its ugly face to even my meal," he said. "Things are slowly drying up. And what that means is that more people show up."

Some city officials expressed hope that, despite the downturn, another nonprofit would offer a dinner on Thanksgiving in coming years.

"It certainly would be nice if everybody could have a Thanksgiving dinner," said Councilor Russ Silbiger. "Hopefully some group can come along and make that happen."

Staff writer Hannah Guzik can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 226.

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