WabiSabi's 2014 Thanksgiving community meal at the Grand Center brought people from all walks of life together. The group expects to feed more than 700 people at this year's free or by-donation meal on Thursday, Nov. 26, from 2 to 5 p.m. [Photo courtesy of WabiSabi]

As chef of WabiSabi’s community Thanksgiving dinner, Kaye Davis holds to her principles by incorporating locally grown food – as well as some organic produce – into the menu.

When Davis started two years ago, 60 percent of the produce used was sourced locally. At this year’s 11th annual Thanksgiving community meal, 100 percent of the vegetables and fruits served will come from local farmers.

“We found a way with generous donations from the community, working with local farmers to be able to provide a free and nutritious and healthy meal on Thanksgiving,” Davis said.

Next week’s free or by-donation dinner will be held on Thursday, Nov. 26, from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Grand Center, 182 N. 500 West.

In addition to the traditional turkey and cranberries, the menu will include locally grown apples, potatoes, squash, green beans, celery, carrots, garlic and leeks – produce that was either donated or sold at cost by area farmers. Participating growers include Hole Foods Farms, Early Morning Orchard, Millcreek Farm and Gardens, Dunhams and others.

Additionally, local beekeepers – known as Moabees – are donating honey that will be used in squash and carrot dishes, said AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer Colleen Jordan, who manages WabiSabi meals.

Community leaders founded the Thanksgiving public feast years ago because of the number of people out of work in Moab during the winter. Organizers also noted a lot of residents without family in the area. Roughly 300 people were served at that first Thanksgiving meal. This year, the program expects to feed more than 700 people.

The dinner is not only for people in need, or those without nearby family, however. Everyone is invited, and the Thanksgiving meal has grown to include people from all walks of life who enjoy getting out and meeting their fellow Moab residents.

It’s not uncommon for a city council member to sit next to a person who is homeless, organizers said. Residents are encouraged to get to know one another by sharing a holiday meal together.

WabiSabi Program Director Mandy Turner recalled a Salt Lake City couple who heard about the event a couple of years ago and wanted to volunteer.

“They thought they were signing up for a soup kitchen,” Turner said.

They were amazed at the idea of a community holiday meal that serves everyone – not only those in need, she said.

“It creates an atmosphere of inclusiveness,” she added.

“We see people who absolutely have the need, to people who can afford to pay,” Davis said. “What’s really beautiful is people from all walks of life sitting next to each other and interacting. That’s the beauty of food.”

At a community meal a few years ago, Turner sat down for a break to eat a slice of pecan pie. She sat next to a mother whose daughter who was in an electronic wheelchair.

“They said they couldn’t go to friends’ houses because of steps (that are not wheelchair accessible), so they came to this event,” Turner said. “In a town where not everything is accessible, that can be isolating on a holiday.”

Thanksgiving wouldn’t be complete without pumpkin and pecan pies – there will be those and more, thanks to donations by local restaurants. Additionally, the Youth Garden Project is donating fruits that students have grown and canned to use in making pies. Youth Garden Project Director Delite Primus, garden manager Sarah Perez-Sans and interns will bake the pies.

Crystal’s Cakes and Cones is donating cheesecakes, cookies and cupcakes.

In addition to the traditional roasted turkey that WabiSabi will be serving, Singha Thai restaurant is making a turkey curry dish for the community meal with turkey supplied by WabiSabi, Jordan said.

The Thanksgiving event is also an opportunity for volunteerism. Organizers say they need more than 100 volunteers to make it all happen. Duties include setting up, pouring water, serving, bussing and washing dishes, and greeting guests. So far, 80 people have signed up to help, Jordan said. Volunteers work in shifts, from 1:30 to 3 p.m., or 3 to 5 p.m.

Volunteers are trained to keep a look-out for guests who may need a seat, or a snack while waiting for space to open up in the dining area. Guests are treated to pumpkin bread and other snacks while they wait.

The Thanksgiving dinner is part of the WabiSabi Community Meals program, whose mission is to “inspire diverse members of the Moab community to care for one another by providing a healthy meal for all, while promoting a warm and friendly gathering place no matter the time of year.”

In addition to the annual Thanksgiving dinner, the meals program offers four Sunday brunches, starting on Jan. 17, 2016. These free or by-donation meals are served at Sabaku Sushi and are open to the public. WabiSabi also serves community lunches during the summer.

Davis said her greatest joy as a chef is to feed people and see that they really enjoy it.

“It’s good to feed the community with food sourced from the community,” she said.

Free Thanksgiving dinner draws people from all walks of life

For more information, or to volunteer or donate to WabiSabi Community Meals, visit wabisabimoab.org, or call 435-259-2553.

What’s really beautiful is people from all walks of life sitting next to each other and interacting. That’s the beauty of food.