No turkeys will be served at the Dance Palace this Thanksgiving Day. The community meal that has existed in various forms for over 30 years is being temporarily shelved as its organizer, West Marin Community Services, devises a new version that can better serve locals.
According to executive director Socorro Romo, a few troubling trends have made organizers want to re-configure the tradition. In particular, participation by the have-nots has dwindled, while those-who-have have taken over. And, Ms. Romo said, of last year’s more than 300 attendees, “there were people from 30 towns. And that’s when we went ‘Wow, no. We really want to focus on locals and low-income locals.’”
She believes the influx of outsiders was due both to news of the event spreading on social media and to past volunteers from elsewhere in the region returning as guests.
“People who were donating the turkeys were like, ‘Why are we doing it for people from out of the area?’” said Angelo Sacheli, one of the event’s founders. He said that last year someone walked into the event, asked if it was free and subsequently cancelled a reservation at Sir and Star restaurant in Olema.
Putting the Thanksgiving meal together was also a Herculean task for the small nonprofit, which had been organizing it for the past decade. Though it is never short on volunteers—roughly 100 helped out last year—the organization’s small planning group bore the brunt of logistics. Ms. Romo said that the month before and the week after the event, were entirely devoted to cooking, cleaning and organizing.
“That’s when I started thinking, ‘You know what? We even push appointments with our clients for after or before [the dinner], and that’s not fair because this meal is for them, and they’re not coming,” Ms. Romo said. “When we think about our mission statement, it’s to help those most disadvantaged. I don’t see them there.”
Though the group has not taken a formal poll of its clients to find out why so few attend the meal, some in the homeless community have alluded that the number of well-heeled outsiders has made them feel uncomfortable and unwelcome.
But not all volunteers noticed the change. Robin White, who has been volunteering at the event for over a decade, said she wasn’t aware of the rising trend of out-of-town attendees. “I figured I just didn’t know a lot of people,” she said.
Ms. White regrets that the event will not be happening this fall. “I could name you maybe five highlights of the year for me that happen every year, and that was one of them,” she said. “I love to serve my community and have people get together that way. It was just a beautiful event.”
In principle, Ms. Romo agrees. “To me, this is one of the most beautiful events,” she said. “My goal was to have it all-organic, to honor all different aspects of the community and to give those who most likely cannot get an organic meal the opportunity to be there and enjoy it. I wanted to open it to the entire community to integrate the community: those who have, and those who have not.”
Mr. Sacheli feels the event’s attendance “is parallel to what we’re losing as a community. We’re shrinking. There’s second, third, fourth homes out there. Our school populations have gone down. It’s a convergence.”
And although he is happy that West Marin Community Services will work to bring the event back, “it’s tough to see it go,” he said.
For now, Ms. Romo hopes community members will give her feedback on why the number of locals—especially those who rely on the nonprofit—has dwindled, and how the event can be improved. “I really wish people would come forward and say, ‘We want to go forward with this meal—let’s see how we can re-shape it,’” she said.
Ms. Romo can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at (415) 663.8361.