Cary Norsworthy - Giving Thanks

Many people who know me in my present incarnation aren't aware of my past work in social services...specifically, that I directed a food bank program for people with AIDS in San Francisco during the early 1980s. My story—of my favorite meal—comes from this era.

First let me preface this by saying that I was never very big on traditional holidays. Big family gatherings—with their accompanying tensions—were often not my idea of a good time. Usually I ate too much, the heat was on too high, there was nothing good on TV, the stores were closed, and I got cranky.

But in 1984--during the Food Bank Years—I had an idea. What if we could throw a Thanksgiving Dinner for any person with AIDS who had nowhere to go on that holiday? This was terribly ambitious, as I myself had never cooked a turkey on my own, nor had I ever put on a large event. So I put out feelers—talked to volunteers and food bank donors—and before long, plans were underway to throw a giant feast for about 250 people in San Francisco. I found a nightclub that would let us use their space for the event at no charge, but they had one stipulation: we couldn't use the ovens.

This was a challenge: no ovens. But I thought that if I could get everyone to bring warm, cooked turkeys to the event, it might work. Some volunteers canvassed the neighborhood bars and businesses for contributions of drinks, plates, and serving utensils. I was terribly concerned that people would be too busy with their own plans to cook a turkey or bake some yams for us, but several people and religious organizations signed up to provide the hot food. We were ready to roll.

On Thanksgiving Day, we were inundated with food. Word had gotten out about this dinner, and people showed up with cooked turkeys and gourmet salads that I hadn't even anticipated. Restaurants were sending over giant portions of food...and all of it was good. Not everyone had the same, exact dining experience, because the food had come from so many different places, from the imaginations of so many different cooks. Nevertheless, we were all satiated, complete with dessert and after-dinner coffee. While we were eating, some people with AIDS got up—spontaneously—to speak to the gathering about their experiences. It was very moving.

This meal stands out for me amongst all the others—Thanksgiving or otherwise—because it had so much content. It wasn't just the food— although the food was fabulous. It was memorable because with no money— just the good will and generosity of the community—we'd had this amazing gathering and enjoyed ourselves so much.

Cary Norsworthy, cary@peachpit.com

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