September 19, 2021
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Rotary sponsored Thanksgiving meal

By: Irene Hilsendager
November 20, 2020

This year’s Thanksgiving Day dinner will be different due to the COVID-19. Usually, the Rohnert Park Senior Center is bustling with many volunteers from the Rotary Clubs setting up tables, chairs and carting stem kettles from Sally Tomatoes. Several chefs are making sure turkeys are carved and boxes are ready to be filled. Making sure turkeys are carved and boxes are ready to be filled to the brim for the excited guests since a sit-down dinner is forbidden this year.

Normally guests are lined up and chit chatting with strangers about how the event started years ago around 1988 with a young Reverend Sam Tharpe at the helm.

Tharpe founded his own church, was a football coach, taught history at many different schools, opened his own school for at-risk youth and of course, created and organized an annual Thanksgiving dinner for the needy. Tharpe, along with many volunteers, would get together the night before Thanksgiving and carve about 35 turkeys and make sure the meal would be ready for the great gobbler day.

The dinner seemed to provide a meal, however, it created a tradition and brought the community together with friends, helpers, volunteers and friends. Thinking back and remembering that Joe and Janet Callinan, Patty Minnis, Bob Alpert, Kaaron Carver, now deceased, and many more with names that have escaped me.

Around 2012 Tharpe hung up his carving knife and in 2013-2014 the Rotary Club of Rohnert Park-Cotati and the City of Rohnert Park carried on the tradition of bringing great food and camaraderie to the seniors, shut-ins and homeless.

The guests would enjoy talking with the volunteers, showing grandchildren pictures and just doing a little complaining or getting things off their chest.

Between 200-300 individuals have been served in prior Thanksgiving dinners and often up to 40 volunteers helped serve the food and socialize. The Rotary membership program is working with churches, NOAH and homeless advocacy groups to spread the word about the free meal. Due to  COVID-19, not too many volunteers will be at the meal give-away, which is a sad day for the volunteers.

Sally Tomatoes has catered the meal since the Rotary Club took over and this year food is being prepared for 300 meals with 50 turkey gobblers going into oven and then into the prepared boxes. 

The guests who are able to walk or drive to the senior center complex (the rear parking lot) is located at 6800 Hunter Dr., Rohnert Park. The food boxes will be dispensed November 26 from 12 noon to 3 p.m. If you are planning to pick up multiple meals for friends and families, please, this year, there is a limitation of the food boxes and you may pick up only two meals so that many individuals get fed through the day. Servings may get reduced if the food runs out; however, if any excess food is left it normally will get donated to the Santa Rosa Rescue Mission.

Thank you to the Reverend Tharpe for starting this tradition and thank you for coming to Sonoma County with a scholarship and attending Sonoma State University. Tharpe usually says, “I am not trying to get any glory, just trying to help people and make sure God’s work gets done.”

The small raggedy group of volunteers who will be handing out boxes of food will be wearing masks and gloves as a safety precaution with protocol in place. This year for those who are coming to the site, you must be wearing a face mask. For those who are driving, you will be designated to a drive through lane and the servers will provide the boxed meals to you. Please do not exit your car. We want everyone to be safe. 

If you desire to give a donation, kindly mail a check to Rohnert Park-Cotati Rotary, P.O. Box 1564, Rohnert Park, Ca. 94927. Attention Darren Patterson.