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Friday, April 25, 2014
Canajoharie, NY ,

Caroline Murray
The H.C. Smith Benefit Club in St. Johnsville has been hosting the annual Thanksgiving community dinner for nine years. Seniors, families and others gathered throughout the day Thursday to enjoy a hearty Thanksgiving meal and the company of others.

The Flander family, from left: Tom Sr., Kim, Tom Jr., Danielle, Jonathan and Patrick.

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Flander family keeps Thanksgiving tradition alive

Wednesday, December 04, 2013 - Updated: 11:28 PM

By CAROLINE MURRAY

For the C-S-E

ST. JOHNSVILLE  -- This Thanksgiving, the Flander family once again gave the community a delicious reason to be thankful. 

At 11 a.m. an assembly line of volunteers began packing up containers full of Thanksgiving dinner and dessert. Soon after, more than 150 meals were delivered to homes in Fulton and Montgomery counties.

And an additional 300 people would attend a community dinner later that afternoon.

All of this would not be possible without the hard work of the Flander family, their friends, and H.C. Smith Benefit Club members.

For the past nine years, brothers Thomas Flander Jr. and Patrick Flander along with their father Thomas Flander Sr., have organized a Thanksgiving community dinner at the benefit club, a tradition that was founded by Kathy Flander several decades ago.

“She started the meals because Meals-on-Wheels do not have dinners on Thanksgiving day. She wanted to make sure seniors got dinner,” Tom Jr. said.       

The entire day is in honor of his mother, Kathy, who passed away in 1997 and his sister, who passed two years ago.

 Kathy was the director at the Fort Plain Senior Center and knew of many men and women who spent Thanksgiving alone, without a traditional meal, and thus she decided to spend the holiday cooking for those less fortunate than she.

More than a decade after she passed, the family decided to carry on the tradition in honor of their mother and started up the dinner again in 2005.

This year, about 30 volunteers helped cook 28 turkeys with all the trimmings, including hundreds of pounds of corn, beans, stuffing, mashed potatoes, squash, bread and an array of pies. 

A lot of the food is donated from various churches around the county, local merchants, Price Chopper and Hannaford. 

“Our names get the credit for it, but really it’s the community that provides it, we just prepare it,” said Tom Jr.

Last year, the volunteers and the Flander family served more than 300 people and delivered 150 meals throughout the community.

This year, Tom Jr. said they prepared even more meals because they predicted more families needing help after the June floods in Fort Plain and Herkimer.

“My mother designed the community Thanksgiving dinner for fellowship, she didn’t want to separate people who couldn’t afford it, didn’t want to separate seniors and she wanted to include some of the young kids, too,” said Tom. “A lot of people don’t have families, they can afford a Thanksgiving meal, but they don’t have a family to eat it with.”

Grace Dewall, a Canajoharie resident, said she traveled with her mother to the H.C. Smith Benefit Club to enjoy a nice meal and good company.

She said it is rare that people celebrate a holiday that serves as a reminder of a lost loved one and appreciates the respect they have for their family. 

“It helps you know how good some people are, to let go of sadness and pass it on so that you are remembered with joy,” said Dewall.

Despite the week’s poor weather, Tom Jr. and Patrick were positive about the day’s turnout and did not think about canceling any deliveries. 

Tom Jr.’s first stop of the day was at Midtown Estates in St. Johnsville, his daughter Danielle, 20, and son Jonathan, 13, accompanied him on the delivery.

There, they dropped off the containers full of food they assembled earlier. Linda VanValkenburgh and her neighbors were anxiously waiting their arrival.

This was VanValkenburgh’s second year ordering from the family and said that a lot of seniors are grateful to have the service.

“The meals are excellent. No one can say there wasn’t enough,” she said. 

Danielle and Jon have been helping their father out since they started the benefit dinner nine years ago.

“I like being able to see everyone’s faces when they come in and help them. It makes me feel wonderful,” said Danielle.

Tom looks forward to the day that his children “run the show,” and take over their Thanksgiving tradition.

The day is truly a family affair. 

Tom Jr.’s wife Kim said she had fond memories of when Kathy first started the dinner in Fort Plain.

“When she was at the senior center her main thing was that she didn’t want any of the seniors to be alone that day. She incorporated a family atmosphere and she incorporated entertainment, she had an accordion ... she would sing Christmas music,” said Kim.

According to Tom Jr., the family begins planning for the dinner months in advance. Preparation for dishes such as the squash are done weeks ahead of time. Residents from the community are known to drop by the benefit club throughout the week with a homemade pie or a dessert from their local grocery store. 

“The community has always been a great community for helping the Flander family and this is just our one way of paying it forward and paying it back,” said Tom Jr.

     

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