Bob Sweeney and his dedicated crew of cooks and delivery folks haven’t taken a break on Thanksgiving for 35 years – always preparing hot, fresh meals for seniors and vulnerable residents every Thanksgiving and delivering to their homes – but COVID seemed to be a barrier to all that this year, until he heard how great the need is.
Typically, Sweeney and his volunteers cook up about 30 turkeys, prep everything in the American Legion Hall with the help of the Boys & Girls Club members and then get it out to those in need with a network of delivery drivers that showed up faithfully every Thanksgiving. However, with COVID guidelines, the American Legion Hall wasn’t going to be available, and the volunteers wouldn’t be able to help in the numbers they did before.
So, sad as it was, Sweeney thought 2020 might be a year off.
Then he heard the need.
“We would have way more than 50 people just on the Wednesday for the preparation and there was just no way it could happen with the guidelines,” he said. “I figured we would take a year off and pick back up in 2021. Then I talked to Paul Sullivan (Ferrin Street) and Meghan Murray (Golden Age) and they told me there was a bigger need than ever. The I realized we had to figure out a way to do it.”
Sweeney said they are looking at needing to put out more than 225 hot meals this year, the biggest ever by far – plus they have to do it in a socially distanced way. It won’t be easy, but he said they are ready.
“This is the biggest year as it turns out,” he said. “We can do it, but it won’t be as easy. This year – the need is just tremendous.”
They plan to work longer and use a kitchen at a private club in Stoneham and keep the numbers of volunteers down to 10. Using their network of delivery drivers, they are going to get the dinners out from the Golden Age Center on Thanksgiving. He said they think they have it covered, but might be able to use more delivery people.
“We might need volunteers on the delivery end of it and donations would be nice too,” he said. “We do it all by donation and this is actually the first time I’ve ever asked for donations. Usually my friends and I just do it, but this year the numbers are over the top. It’s more than 200 dinners.”
Sweeney began the dinners in the early 1980s when he operated a fish market on Bunker Hill Street. He partners with many community leaders to keep the dinner going, including the late Patriot owner Jim Conway. Even after the store closed, he continued and hasn’t stopped right through this year.
To volunteer or donate, contact Sweeney at (781) 526-9004.