Around a quarter to noon on Thursday, the first cars started lining up outside the Hanover Parks and Recreation Department at the Richard W. Black Community Center.
They were there to pick up a Thanksgiving feast prepared by students enrolled in the culinary arts program at the Hartford Area Career & Technology Center. It was the first “Grab & Go Lunch” the two organizations had partnered on.
Staff were inspired by the Upper Valley Senior Center’s popular to-go program in Lebanon and closely followed their setup. Last week’s meal was the first, and another is planned for Dec. 17. The cost is $6 and it is open to all Upper Valley residents.
“We’re really happy with the 56,” Liz Burdette, the recreation department’s assistant director, said about the number of people who signed up. “Hopefully it’ll continue to grow. We have no idea about our maximum capacity and we’re excited to learn what that capacity may be.”
People had to sign up in advance and were encouraged to pick up meals for more than one person to limit the traffic, said Judy Stevens, adult/senior program manager at the department on Lebanon Street. Bri Barnes, athletics program manager, stood near the entrance to the recreation department’s parking lot wearing a turkey costume to direct drivers to the line.
As cars approached, masked drivers rolled down their windows and gave their name to the masked-and-gloved staff, who checked to see the number of meals they were set to receive. Each meal included apple crisp (topped with homemade marshmallow fluff instead of whipped cream), butternut squash soup, turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, gravy and cranberry sauce.
“The only thing missing was the roll,” said chef Patrick Gobeille, instructor for the Hartford Area Career & Technology Center’s Culinary Arts Program. The 14 senior students in the program prepared the meal. “It doesn’t take that long, but … because it’s an educational experience for the kids, we kind of take things slow and we break it down through the whole week.”
It’s not the first time that the two organizations have partnered: Students have also made meals for the recreation department’s monthly senior birthday luncheons, which have since been suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During the last school year, Gobeille and his students were planning to visit the department to meet the seniors they prepared meals for before state pandemic regulations prevented them from doing so.
“The kids were pretty bent out of shape about that too,” Gobeille said, adding that he is hopes they can visit once it’s safe.
The Grab & Go Meal also allowed Stevens, who sported a turkey hat, and other staff to check in on some of the older adults they would regularly see before the pandemic. They exchanged air hugs and greetings.
“Enjoy!” Stevens called to one participant. “I miss seeing you!”
People also received a newsletter with activities including Sudoku and word puzzles, as well as next month’s menu.
“This was a win-win situation for everybody,” Stevens said about the students and seniors involved. “We haven’t been able to see our seniors.”
Gobeille said the pandemic has been difficult for his students, who are also receiving fewer catering jobs. They are also unable to open their restaurant to the general public.
“When they’re in school it’s a highlight. When they’re not in school they get pretty run-down,” Gobeille said. “They all prefer to be here. Any news of a shutdown is devastating to them because they love being in the program.”
Cooking for senior citizens in particular provides students with another learning opportunity.
“We also talk about who our food benefits,” Gobeille said. “It’s very important for them to understand it’s not just some person somewhere in the world receiving our food. It’s a person relying on our food because they might not be able to cook alone at home.”
December’s menu is set to include corn chowder, roasted pork with apple chutney, mashed sweet potatoes, roasted vegetables, and pumpkin pie for dessert. People can register for meals at hanoverrec.com or by calling 603-643-5315.
“These kids are wonderful. What they do at the senior center is amazing,” Gobeille said. “They come together and do amazing things.”
Liz Sauchelli can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3221.