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United Parish brings back its Thanksgiving dinner, a decades-long tradition halted by pandemic

Guests enjoy United Parish's Thanksgiving dinner in 2018. Photo by Sacred Harbor Photography.
November 21, 2023

United Parish is planning to host a community Thanksgiving dinner for 200 people on Thursday afternoon, rekindling a decades-long tradition for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic struck.

The Harvard Street church has hosted the dinner since around 1981, bringing together hundreds of community members each year for turkey and company.

The pandemic forced the church to adapt. In 2020, its volunteers cooked and delivered meals to those who asked. The next two years, United Parish helped the Brookline Food Pantry provide meal kits to community members.

This year, United Parish is bringing the tradition back to its full in-person, celebratory origins.

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“For us as a community, it means a lot to be able to do this again. It’s a way of sharing our love and hospitality through food,” said Kent French, senior pastor at United Parish.

Arielle Chernin, operations manager for the Brookline Food Pantry, grew up as part of the church. She spent years helping her father, a long-time chair of the Thanksgiving dinner event. Now she runs the show, with help from the “Thanksgiving bible,” a big binder of instructions he provided.

Thanksgiving for 200 guests means 16 20-pound turkeys, 65 pounds each of potatoes and sweet potatoes plus other sides, all served banquet-style with tablecloths, dishes and glassware. Chernin said for the first time, she’s hired a chef from a Boston-area restaurant to help out, and organize what’s typically a chaotic kitchen of volunteers. Other community members have been dropping off food donations all week.

“It feels really good. We haven’t fed anybody yet and it already feels good,” Chernin said. “The community as a whole seems excited about it, and the church is ecstatic. It’s such a momentous event for them, and so many members have been disappointed not to do it the last few years.”

The meal, French said, is open to anyone who wants to join.

“For a lot of people who come it’s a kind of community they wouldn’t be able to enjoy otherwise,” he said. “Lots of older folks in the neighborhood come. So do a lot of families who are having Thanksgiving for the first time in this country. It’s a fun time”

The meal starts at 1 p.m. with doors opening at 12:30 p.m., in Willett Hall on the lower floor of the church’s building at 15 Marion Street. RSVPs aren’t required, but organizers say they help the church get an idea of who is coming. Click here for more information.