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On this day of bounty, not everyone will gather around the dinner table with loved ones. More people are going hungry this year. Demand for food at pantries is up an average of 11 percent, according to the Greater Boston Food Bank. So one restaurant in Saugus, called Spud's, opens its doors every year on Thanksgiving for those in need.
Earlier this week, preparations were in full swing. In the kitchen, eight turkeys were roasting in a pizza oven. It takes four to five hours to roast the 24-pound birds, according to Spud's president, Bruce Spaulding. Spaulding said by Thanksgiving Day, there'll be 600 pounds of roast turkey, which is enough for 600 dinners.
About half the meals are served in the restaurant, and the rest are delivered to elderly homebound residents and an area senior center. No one gets turned away, Spaulding said. "We take all and any," he said. "There's no admission, there's no charge."
Spaulding says that's not always the reason people show up.
"A funny story is two people came in one time. They sat, they had their dinner and they went to pay their bill, but it was a free day," Saugus recalled. "They had no idea it was a free day and it was actually the Saugus selectman. He was embarrassed by that, and he's come back every year since to help volunteer to serve the turkey dinners."
Beside the selectman, Spaulding said volunteers include employees, who come in with their families on their day off. Jay Prushinski and his wife Mary Allen came in to volunteer earlier this week. The long-time employees were trying to make a dent in the 400 pounds of squash to be served on Thanksgiving Day.
"It's fun, you know, you come in, you help out the needy, do your part to help other people," Prushinski said.
In addition to the fresh squash, there's turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, gravy and bread rolls. All the food is donated by vendors, so it's at no cost to Spud's. The number of free meals has grown six-fold since the tradition began in 1987. Spaulding attributed that growth to more exposure, rather than the economy.
"Last year when the economy started to go down, I thought we would see a great upsurge in numbers and we really didn't," he said. "It's always my goal to never run out of turkey, so we keep cooking more, just in case."
And since area food pantries are seeing greater need this year, they just might need those extra turkeys.
"It seems that a lot of places and a lot of people do things on Thanksgiving, but I think the need is there every day of the week, every day of the year," Spaulding said, "and I would encourage people to give food and money to food pantries and shelters — and not just on Thanksgiving."
At least on this Thanksgiving, Spud's is there for those who need not only a hot meal, but also company to share it with. Those who come in alone are paired up with others, so no one has to eat their turkey and fresh butternut squash alone.
This program aired on November 26, 2009.
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