BOSTON - It’s hard to believe, but the holidays are here and there was no better way to get into the spirit for the most joyful time of year than with the Garden Neighborhood Charities’ 15th Annual Table of Friends Thanksgiving feast on November 23rd.
"I’ve been doing this over 10 years now. It’s part of tradition. It kind of kicks off the meaning of giving back," said the director of development for the Boston Bruins Foundation, Bob Sweeney, of the event held each year to give Boston's homeless a Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings.
"We’re helping out, doing our small part to feed all the people today. It really signifies the start of the holiday season."
Now 15 years old, the Table of Friends has been around as long as the TD Garden itself.
"When we moved into the building, Garden Neighborhood Charities was formed. It was our way of giving back to the city of Boston and the area, and [the Table of Friends] is one of our flagship ways of doing it. It’s a tradition," TD Garden President John Wentzell said.
Serving over 700 of Boston residents this year, friends from sports, politics and the media alike joined together to host a feast made up of over 600 pounds of turkey, 700 pounds of stuffing, and 400 pounds of mashed potatoes. Not to mention, the 106 dozen dinner rolls, of course!
The Table of Friends event started out on a much smaller scale, but has grown to accommodate the city's needs.
"I think the need in the homeless area has only grown since we opened our doors," Wentzell said.
And the Garden truly has opened all its doors to the community on this special day, bringing the event that used to be held in the concourse area right to the arena's floor.
"The feeling was if we were truly going to invite the community into our home, this is the heart of our home, this is our living room, if you will, so we really wanted to do that. It’s really that much more special when you do it on the famed arena floor of the Garden," Wentzell added.
In addition to opening up the arena itself for all the day's festivities, Wentzell and the Garden Neighborhood Charities donated $15,000 to the Friends of Boston's Homeless, an important partner in providing the annual Thanksgiving dinner.
As hundreds of people waited in line, some of the Garden's favorite legends suited up in aprons to ladle out some delicious food, good times and Thanksgiving laughs. In addition to an appearance by Massachusetts’ Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, Bruins alumni, including B’s president Cam Neely, Ken Hodge and Rick Middleton also found their way home for this great event.
"First of all, it’s great for the Garden, for the Jacobs family, and for everybody involved to come out and do this,” Neely said while taking a quick break from dishing out some extra fluffy stuffing. “I think it’s wonderful … just to be able to be a part of helping to feed all these people that don’t necessarily have an opportunity to eat the way that most of us do,"
Hodge, a standout winger for the Bruins Stanley Cup teams in 1970 and 1972 and a volunteer at the Table of Friends event since its inception, feels it’s always a day full of mixed emotions.
“I think it’s a bittersweet kind of relationship,” said Hodge. “You do it because you enjoy doing it, but it’s kind of bitter when you think we have to continue to do it every year.
“It’s bittersweet that we have to do it, but we’re grateful we can.”
Middleton, who scored a hat trick in his first-ever game as a Bruin and played for the team from 1976-88, also spoke about the day.
"That’s what Thanksgiving is all about, and Christmas, it’s not what you get, it’s what you give,” explained Middleton. “That’s what’s special about people in general, but the Boston athletes -- I see all the other sports, the baseball guys, the football guys, they do all the same things.
"Things like this, when you get asked, you just come and do it, that’s it,"
"It makes you grateful for your family and your friends, especially at this time, around Thanksgiving," added Sweeney. "We have a lot to be thankful for and for us to give back our time for a few hours today is a great, great feeling to know that we’re doing something good."
While all of the Table of Friends volunteers were excited to be a part of the day’s festivities, Neely pointed out that it is important for everyone to carry their holiday spirit with them all through the year.
“It shouldn’t take this one day a year for people to be thankful for what they have in life," he said. "I mean, everybody has different things that they should be thankful for.
"It shouldn’t be just one day to really reflect on that.”