FRAMINGHAM, MA - It's almost Thanksgiving, and while many families in Framingham are wondering if they should cook at home and invite company, or accept an invitation to visit with friends or relatives for a turkey dinner -- others are just wondering where they'll get their next meal, or where they'll sleep tonight, or are elderly, disabled or shut-in and might be alone for the holiday.
When Mark Curtis, owner of the Eagles All American Grill, (located in the Eagles Club at 55 Park Street, in Downtown Framingham), realized there were so many needy people who might go without Thanksgiving dinner, he stepped up to the plate -- the Thanksgiving dinner plate that is!
Mark and his wife Karen, their five children, and countless other relatives, friends and volunteers have helped to make The Curtis Family Thanksgiving at The Eagles a Framingham tradition for the past 22 years.
Each year the number of people needing a meal has grown. The first year only about 20 people showed up for the free dinner. Last year over 1600 meals were served -- that number up considerably from the just 1200 or so meals the Curtis family served in 2009, and doubling the 2008 dinner when they only served 800 people.
This year Mark and Karen have actually been reaching to out to more people and more organizations -- making sure anyone who might need a Thanksgiving meal knows they can get one.
When I spoke to Mark he told me Karen is very compassionate about making sure veterans are taken care of, so they contacted Peter Harvell, Framingham Veterans' Agent and asked him to let veterans and their families know they were welcome to come to the Eagles on Thanksgiving for a meal -- or if they needed it, and preferred to eat at home, that a Thanksgiving dinner would be delivered to them.
The Curtis family has also reached out to Christine Alessandro, Executive Director of BayPath Elder Services to make sure any seniors involved in that organization's programs would not be without dinner this Thanksgiving.
Mark and Karen also keep in contact with Lisa Horning, Director of Resident Services for the Framingham Housing Authority. Lisa helps make a list of low-income families, seniors, disabled individuals and anyone else living in FHA housing, and makes sure they all have Thanksgiving dinner too.
In the past, The Curtis Family has plated individual meals -- if someone needed one, two or more, all they needed to do was call and let Mark and Karen know how many they needed. This year Mark is hoping to be able to provide complete family style meals -- hot and ready to eat family size portions that will make the holiday feel a bit more traditional for those in need.
Do they do it all them themselves?
For the first 20 years, Mark and Karen never asked for donations. They paid the entire cost for all the food themselves, and used their own employees, family members and friends to put the dinner together, served everyone and cleaned up afterward. Their reward was knowing they had helped those in need.
Over the years, as word of their generosity spread, others began to make donations and offered to help. Mark and Karen get a lot of pleasure when they see someone who was down on their luck one year, appreciated the kindness and the meal, then return another year in better shape wanting to make a donation or offering to help prepare food, serve others, or deliver meals.
In 2009, realizing that many area churches, the Salvation Army, the Framingham Civic League and other Framingham organizations would not be serving Thanksgiving meals, Mark and Karen got worried that they wouldn't be able to afford to feed everyone who might show up.
They had never asked for donations before -- although there were several area businesses that had volunteered to help. When I spoke with Mark he mentioned a few --- there's Paul Bernardi and Steve Bremmer at Imprint Graphics, (59 Fountain Street, Framingham, MA), who each year donate all the silk screened signs and posters for the dinner -- including this year for the "23rd Annual Curtis Family Thanksgiving".
Then there's the Framingham Baking Company, (840 Waverly Street, Framingham, MA), which year after year donates dinner rolls and breads used to make the hundreds of pounds of stuffing for the dinner.
Mark told me John and Joe Tomacz of TJ's Spirits, (355 West Union Street Ashland, MA), asked what they could do to help, and when Mark asked what they'd like to contribute, the brothers told him, "Whatever you need!"
And of course, there's Tony Maenzo owner of Maenzo's Hair Design, (444 Franklin Street, Framingham, MA). Tony and his Off The Hook Band provide the entertainment and help organize an annual dinner/dance to help raise funds for the Thanksgiving dinner.
And then there's Dianne Lynch. Dianne volunteered a few years ago to deliver Thanksgiving meals to shut-ins and elderly Framingham folks and found herself feeling so grateful to be involved with the Curtis Family Thanksgiving that she's taken on the role of fund-raiser. Dianne starts in the middle of the summer soliciting corporate donations -- asking businesses to donate items for a fund-raising raffle. She and Tony (Maenzo) then organize the raffle for the night of the dinner/dance. As time gets closer to Thanksgiving she manages food donations, and shows up the week of Thanksgiving to do whatever else she can to help.
When Cheryl Tully Stoll heard that the Curtis Family Thanksgiving Dinner was in need of a fundraising boost last year, she put her marketing and communications experience to work and sent out letters on email lists and to the media to get a quick infusion of donations. This year she did the same, and worked with the United Way to create a way for people to donate online -- and to provide a means for businesses who need a tax deductible receipt from a registered 501(3)(c) non-profit to get one.
There are many more people and businesses that have donated to, or otherwise supported the dinner including: BOSE Corporation, Ken's Steak House, Samba, Clean Machine, Framingham Cooperative Bank, The Oregon Club, Collotta's Barber Shop, Alumni House, Love Those Nails, Beerworks, Eastern Bakers Supply, and many, many other businesses and individuals.
What can you do to help?
I asked Mark what he needs the most for this year's dinner.
In typical fashion, the first thing that came to mind wasn't to ask for money or help cooking, serving or washing all the pots, pans -- he wanted me to make sure I mentioned "reaching out to those in need".
Mark and Karen want to make sure nobody in the Framingham area goes without a Thanksgiving dinner, So...
#1 on the list of How To Help, is to reach out to those in need -- veterans, seniors, disabled persons, homeless or down-on-their-luck individuals and families and let them know all they need to do is show up at Eagles Hall on Thursday November 24, 2011, (starting at 12:00 noon and running until everyone is fed), and they will have a hot, traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner! No questions asked, nothing expected in return.
If someone can't get themselves to the Eagles, all they have to do is call ahead of time and get their name and address on the list and volunteers will deliver meals to them! Below are few contact names and numbers to request meals:
- Eagles All American Grille, Mark & Karen Curtis ... (508) 820-0600
- Framingham Veterans' Agent, Peter Harvell ... (508) 532-5515
- Framingham Housing Authority, Lisa Horning ... (508) 879-7562
- Baypath Elder Services, Christine Alessandro ... (508) 573-7200
#2 on the list of How To Help is by donating money.
Mark wouldn't ask -- I had to practically pry it out of him. The simplest way to donate is to stop in at the Eagle's All American Grill, 55 Park St., Framingham, MA, 01702.
Stop in any time between now and Thanksgiving, (they're open Monday-Saturday 11am to 8pm and 'til 9pm on Fridays -- they're also open for brunch Sundays from 10:30am until 2pm). Cash or checks in any amount will be gratefully accepted.
If you can't get to Downtown Framingham but still want to donate, The United Way has offered to act as a "fiscal agent", and will be forwarding 100% of your donation directly to the Curtis Family! In addition the United Way will provide a tax deductible receipt from a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit.
You can donate online using a credit card, or send a check in the mail.
To donate online using your credit card: CLICK HERE and complete the simple online form!
You decide how much you want to give, then check off "Curtis Family Thanksgiving Dinner", (as shown at right), fill in your name, address and credit card info and you're done!
If you prefer to donate using a check, make check payable to: "Curtis Family Dinner/United Way" and drop it off or mail to: United Way of Tri-County, 46 Park Street, Framingham, MA 01702.
The United Way will automatically send a receipt to anyone donating $250.00 or more, (if you donate less and would like a tax deductible receipt you must request one).
For more information about tax deductible donations, contact Paul Mina of the United Way at 888-811-3291 (M-F 8am-5pm) . On top of providing this service, The United Way is also donating $500.00 to the Curtis Family Dinner this year! Once again, the web address for online donations is: www.unitedwaytri-county.org/care/donate
#3 on the list of How To Help is donating food, paper goods and other items. For information about what types of items can be accepted, please contact Dianne Lynch at (508) 380-0682, or by sending email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
#4 on the list of How To Help is to help prepare the meals. Simply show up at the Eagles on Wednesday November 23, 2011 anytime after 5:30pm and spend some time helping peel and cut up potatoes, carrots, squash and other vegetables and do other food prep work to get ready for the next day.
You'll have lots of company including Boy Scouts, Girls Scouts, Framingham Flyers sports teams and people from every walk of life.
#5 on the list of How To Help is to volunteer on Thanksgiving day. People are needed starting at 9:30am on Thursday November 24th, 2011 to help finish the prep work, plate and pack meals for delivery, deliver meals to shut-ins, to help serve food, clear tables, wash pots, pans and dishes and clean up afterwards.