At St. Leo’s, making Thanksgiving dinner for hundreds is a tradition

|   By Erin Kayata | Stamford Advocate
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STAMFORD—All was quiet in St. Leo’s Church Wednesday afternoon, except in the kitchen, as the clamor of meals being prepared and the smell of roasting turkey wafted out into the halls.

Four glistening, brown turkeys sat in tin foil pans, covered in a healthy layer of seasoning. Joe Romano, a member of the social concern committee of St. Leo’s, opened an industrial oven to a wall of steam, which gave way to reveal more cooking birds.

Romano is just one of many volunteers—mostly from the Roxbury Road parish—who team together each year to prepare a Thanksgiving meal for the Stamford-based soup kitchen New Covenant Center. The tradition spans over 40 years, serving food each Thanksgiving to hundreds of New Covenant visitors, not counting the leftovers served into the following days.

Like many of the other volunteers, Romano has been doing this work for years. He took over in 1999 after another volunteer was away for the holiday.

“I never cooked a turkey before,” he said. “I said ‘OK, I’m always up for a challenge.’ I learned a lot.”

Over the years, Romano, alongside his fellow churchgoers, has learned the ins and outs of making Thanksgiving dinner for 300, including how to quickly defrost a turkey, produce great mounds of mashed potatoes from scratch and remain calm when faced with the prospect of cooking over a dozen birds. His record is 18 turkeys cooked in a day.

Helping him in the process are dozens of other church volunteers including Joe Baranowski. A trustee of the church who works in commercial real estate, Baranowski worked as a butcher for 10 years at a shop in Queens. His specialty is carving turkeys.

“There’s a certain art to that,” he said. “It’s learning all the joints and cuts of meat.”

In addition to Baranowski, there’s the Girl Scouts who make pies. The Moms and Me group makes corn muffins. The youth groups team up on decorations for the center, with the younger ones creating them and the older group putting them up. One person is in charge of making 12 gallons of gravy.

Parishioners across the board donate and help make green beans, sweet and white potatoes, stuffing and more. And seven parishioners go to the soup kitchen on Thanksgiving Day to serve the meal—Romano said the slots to serve dinner are filled during the first mass of the day when signup time rolls around.

Overall, what have St. Leo’s volunteers learned about making a Thanksgiving dinner for hundreds? That it takes hundreds to make it happen.

“It’s all people pitching in,” Baranowski said. “It’s hundreds of dishes. We all take pride in serving the community on Thanksgiving Day. It’s a community effort.”

By Erin Kayata  |  Stamford; 203.964.2265

Photo by Tyler Sizemore  |  Hearst Connecticut Media

Click here for a follow-up Stamford Advocate article on Thanksgiving Meals at New Covenant Center soup kitchen in Stamford.