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Longtime volunteer continues tradition at carbondale's newman center

Story and photos by LIZ QUIRIN
Messenger editor

As we sit down to our family Thanksgiving meals, many people in the Carbondale area will be going to the Newman Center to enjoy the traditional dinner with all the trimmings.

Linda Brayfield began her Thanksgiving at the Newman Center 30 years ago when she signed on as a volunteer. By then, the dinner had become a tradition. It began when the Newman Center opened 40 years ago.

After her first year, she signed on again, “and the rest,” she said, “is history.”

That history included Brayfield eventually becoming the dinner’s organizer, and preparations have almost been completed for this year’s dinner.
The dinner began, she believes, when Newman Center members couldn’t get home for their own dinners. The following year more people were invited, and eventually it was opened to the community.

In those first years, Brayfield said about 250 people were served, and the number rose to close to 900 people last year which included the volunteers who serve the dinner.

Included in those numbers are meals that are delivered to folks who can’t make it to the center and would like a meal. The center also provides a Meals on Wheels dinner for seniors.

Over the years, Brayfield has always wondered about that first Newman Center Thanksgiving meal. One day she was covering the telephones for the regular receptionist, and a couple walked in and looked around.

Eventually, Brayfield went over to chat with the couple and discovered this was the woman who had cooked that very first turkey so many years ago. “I was ecstatic,” Brayfield said, and the feeling was mutual. They exchanged addresses so they can reminisce about their ‘turkey roots.”

Brayfield said she has developed a “core group” to supervise and take care of the kitchen.
Turkeys are prepared by Clinton County Knights of Columbus and transported to the center. In the past 75 turkeys have been served on Thanksgiving day.

Dressing is prepared at the center and cooked elsewhere because of the sheer volume needed. It’s difficult to bake 16 trays of dressing at one time.

Although Brayfield said she “kind of flies by the seat of her pants,” she knows the schedule, when preparations must begin, the people to call, the products that need to be ordered and the time it takes to put different dishes together and make sure everything is done when the doors open on Thanksgiving day.
“It’s almost second nature,” she said recently.

Monday of Thanksgiving week, apple and pumpkin pies are prepared. By Wednesday, desserts are finished and the rest of the preparations are begun.

Brayfield said she enlists community support through the various churches, and she sends public service announcements to the media for donations, but after all these years, she doesn’t send invitations. People just know they’re invited.

Only once in all these years was Brayfield short on money to pay for food. That year, she said, the Newman Center covered the rest of the cost.

Sometimes, too, equipment breaks down and must be fixed quickly, but somehow everything works.
Susan Cauthen, secretary at the center, and herself a 10-year volunteer, said everything goes very smoothly.
“Foreign students who don’t go home help to serve the meals,” Cauthen said. “The entire center fills up” with people who have waited in line and know they will have a great meal.
“It’s amazingly nice,” Cauthen said, and organized.

What wasn’t clear until very recently was the cleaning up that was required after the dinner to prepare the center for weekend events and liturgies.

Brayfield said she spent hours and hours cleaning up, but now she also has a crew who come in to help clean up.
The Thanksgiving day meal at the Newman Center begins at noon, but many hands have been packaging carryouts for hours before that time.

Why does she continue to do it? “The most exciting thing to me is to see people come and enjoy themselves. They know they will have a nice meal, and they don’t have to worry about whether they can afford it.”


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