Lois and Izzy Nelson’s kids are grown with children, and have grandkids of their own who live out of town. So for the Thanksgiving holiday, the Nelsons join other Moab community members for a gathering held each year by the nonprofit organization WabiSabi.
“I don’t like them to travel when the weather is bad,” said Lois Nelson, speaking about her children and their families. “I told them, ‘we’re fine,’ we like going to the community dinner.”
They see old friends and meet new ones each year, she said. “We used to own a business and knew everyone in town. Anymore, we sit across from someone new – it’s always fun to find out what brought them to Moab. We love the social part of it.”
The nonprofit WabiSabi organization will offer its 10th annual Thanksgiving meal for the Moab community on Thursday, Nov. 27, from 2-5 p.m. at the Grand Center, 182 N. 500 West. The idea is to create a strong sense of community during Moab’s quiet wintertime, as well as help out those who find preparing a traditional Thanksgiving meal to be too expensive.
“It’s grown a lot over the years,” WabiSabi Program Director Mandy Turner said. “There would be 200-300 in the first years. We’re expecting 600 this year.”
A group of community members concerned about hunger and isolation during Moab’s winter months began serving community Thanksgiving meals in 1999. As the tradition grew in popularity, WabiSabi began organizing the event. Since adopting its Winter Meals program, the organization has served more than 10,000 meals to Moab residents.
Many Moabites do not have family in town, said Holly Dinsmore, manager of WabiSabi South and founding organizer of Winter Meals. “We don’t want people to be alone during the holidays. Also, this is the off-season. People are getting laid off, and money is a real issue.”
WabiSabi Winter Meals are for anyone, however, – rich or poor, young and old. People can eat for free, or donate what they can. Donations range from zero to $50, Turner said.
“That’s what is unique,” Turner said. “Everybody is invited. Nobody is turned away.”
More than 100 volunteers help set up, serve, fill water glasses and wash dishes. This year, after months of planning, professional chefs Kaye Davis and Kara Stoner will spend several days preparing the meal, Turner said.
“This year, we’re focusing on food from local growers,” Turner said. Farmers have donated, or sold at a discounted price, fresh produce for the meal. Organizers started freezing locally harvested foods like green beans and squash back in August and September, Turner said.
The menu includes turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, ham, roasted butternut and banana squash, salad, and, for vegetarians – vegetable Thai curry donated by a local Thai restaurant. An array of desserts, including pies, cookies, cheesecake, cupcakes and ice cream have also been donated by local businesses.
Pumpkins for the must-have pumpkin pie are grown by the Youth Garden Project, at its community garden next to Grand County High School. Students bake the pies.
“They’ve been doing that for years,” Turner said. “That was part of the inspiration for the emphasis on local (foods).”
Like previous years, David Seibert will play the piano during the meal – adding to the holiday atmosphere. Children who attend BEACON’s after-school programs will create festive decorations for the tables and walls.
Moab City Council member Heila Ershadi, her husband Brer and their two young children have attended the WabiSabi Thanksgiving gathering for the past four years.
“We see so many people we know,” Ershadi said. “It’s like a family dinner for the whole community.”
Though they attend primarily for social reasons, “there have certainly been years it would have been a squeeze to pull off a big meal,” Ershadi said. “Even now, with (economics) not an issue, we enjoy very much, going.”
WabiSabi is Japanese for “beauty of imperfection.” The nonprofit’s mission is to “receive, revalue and redistribute needed resources to strengthen the Moab community.”
The organization manages two thrift stores, WabiSabi East, 411 Locust Lane, and WabiSabi South, 1030 S. Bowling Alley Lane. Proceeds from sales of donated items are distributed to other local nonprofit organizations, and support WabiSabi’s Thanksgiving meal offering. Its Winter Meals program will include six Sunday brunches beginning Jan. 11, 2015.
The Grand County Food Bank has turkeys to give away to low-income residents. As of last week, 100 turkeys had been donated to the food bank for distribution.
“There was a contest between the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and the National Park Service, to see who could give the most turkeys,” said food bank coordinator Leona Corn. “The park service won – but they have more employees,” Corn was quick to add.
The food bank, located at 56 N. 200 East, is open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Clients who qualify can receive food boxes once a month. The food bank receives supplies from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Utah Food Bank in Salt Lake City, and from local businesses and individuals.
For more information, call the food bank at 435-259-6456.
WabiSabi hosts free Nov. 27 community meal
“Everybody is invited. Nobody is turned away.”
What: WabiSabi Thanksgiving meal
When: Thursday, Nov. 27, 2-5 p.m.
Where: The Grand Center, 182 N. 500 West
Cost: Free; Donations gratefully accepted
Information: www.wabisabimoab.org; to volunteer call 435-259-2553