On Thursday, Nancy Zeno-Hamilton will do what she’s always done on Thanksgiving Day for more than a decade — make sure Nevada County shut-ins have a wonderful meal to help mark the occasion.
Zeno-Hamilton is the founder of Thanks to Give, an organization that coordinates the donations and delivery of food to people who ordinarily might be without during the Thanksgiving holiday.
A part-time employee at Hospitality House in Grass Valley, Zeno-Hamiliton was a social worker for Nevada County Adult Protective Services, working
with seniors and disabled adults for many years.
“During that period of time, my husband and I both had family far away, so on Thanksgiving, we would try and find something to do to help out,” Zeno-Hamilton said. “We were travelling to Sacramento, Marysville, Yuba City and Oroville, volunteering to serve meals and that sort of thing.”
It was during one of these visits away that the family car was rear-ended by another driver.
“After we were in the accident, I decided there must be something closer to home that we could do,” Zeno-Hamilton said.
Zeno-Hamiliton knew that the Meals on Wheels program was closed on Thanksgiving Day, so she sent out referrals to people who regularly received meals — and “that’s how (Thanks to Give) started,” Zeno-Hamilton said. “We asked them if they would be interested in receiving a meal on Thanksgiving Day, and we had an overwhelming response, and it grew from there.”
The list of agencies now participating in Thanks to Give has grown to include Hospice, Adult Services, DaVita Dialysis Center and Chapa De.
“All of the agencies are involved now and know to refer their clients to our program if they meet the criteria,” Zeno-Hamilton said.
Zeno-Hamilton started the program with her husband in 1999. The meals are targeted for people who are home alone on Thanksgiving Day. Many times, they are elderly and cannot get out, even to a restaurant.
“I started small, trying to get a response and see if it was something that the county would be receptive to, and it took off,” Zeno-Hamilton said. “The first year, we delivered 70 meals, and last year, we delivered 195.”
Annually, the American Legion allows the food preparation to take place at the Veterans Memorial Hall in Grass Valley.
SPD Market supplies food at a discounted rate for the family-style meals Thanks to Give delivers.
On Wednesday night, volunteers will carve all the turkeys. Thursday morning, another group of volunteers packages the meals individually. Meals include mashed potatoes, dressing, gravy, green beans, cranberries, pie and a roll. Later, a third wave of volunteer drivers delivers the food to those who have requested it. Meals are delivered with a bouquet of flowers.
“The whole project is finished by 1 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day so that the volunteers can go and enjoy their own Thanksgiving,” Zeno-Hamilton said.
“I never realized I would become so invested in this,”she said. “The thing that gets to me is that every single year around the end of October, I inevitably will get a call from someone who has received a meal in the past, hoping they can get a meal delivered again because they enjoyed it so much. That hooks me in every year,and I realize we have to make this happen.”
Both those who receive and those who volunteer seem to get a lot from the process of giving.
“The response is amazing,” Zeno-Hamilton said. “The recipients love it because they get a visit on Thanksgiving Day and a wonderful meal, and the volunteers love it as well. It’s worked out to be a really wonderful coming together of the community.”
According to Zeno-Hamilton, the last two weeks before meals are delivered are hectic but manageable.
“It took a number of years to get everything in place, but now the infrastructure is there,” Zeno-Hamilton said. “There is a lot of support and commitment by the businesses that participate in the project.”
Zeno-Hamilton has a real desire to see Thanks to Give continue well into the future. That’s why she’s hoping to find — and train — her replacement soon.
“I’m approaching 65 and really believe there is a person, or persons, out there in the community who has the energy and youth to keep this project alive,” Zeno-Hamilton said. “I would hate to think that it would go away if I stopped doing it.”
Anyone wishing to donate resources or volunteer for Thanks to Give can reach Zeno-Hamilton at (530) 273-1217.
Tom Kellar is a freelance writer who lives in Grass Valley. Contact him by email at ThomasKellar@hotmail.com.