By Ted Waddell
MONTICELLO December 3, 2002 An 11-year old girl named Julia was all smiles Thursday afternoon as she sat down with her mother to enjoy a bountiful Thanksgiving feast at Tom's Kitchen.
"Thanksgiving means being with your family and having a nice dinner," said the winsome youngster. "You feel thanks about everything you have, and you're happy for whatever you've got.
"Without a dinner like this, it wouldn't be a happy Thanksgiving," she added.
On Thanksgiving Day, about 75 other folks turned out to join Julia for Thanksgiving dinner at Tom's Kitchen, a Monticello soup kitchen run by the Sullivan County Federation for the Homeless. In addition, approximately 40 take-out dinners were distributed.
Jessie Robinson of Liberty calls Brooklyn home, but recently lost his home in Bethel due to illness after living there 30-some years.
Neither the 86-year-old nor the young girl from Monticello said no when it came to seconds of fresh baked turkey, stuffing and more trimmings than you could shake a drumstick at. Throw in plates overflowing with desserts, and it was a Thanksgiving dinner to be remembered.
The local volunteer community turned out in force to make the sixth annual Thanksgiving dinner at Tom's a success, including the federation staff, a large contingent from Daytop of Swan Lake and three sisters from Wurtsboro: 16-year old Jamie Hackett and her older sisters Kristin, 18, and 28-year old Laurie.
"This year, the dinner's special because we lost Doug Mildner who essentially did the dinner for us for about three years in a row, said Betsy Wiltsey, program administrator at the Federation for the Homeless.
Mildner, owner of Phoenix Income Tax Services, died last summer said Wiltsey, adding, "The Federation owes a lot to Doug and his family."
In honor of his service to the area needy and the yearly Thanksgiving dinners presented at Tom's Kitchen, the event was named "The First Annual Doug Mildner Memorial Thanksgiving Dinner.
We got this thing going in Sullivan County because there wasn't a single place where a meal was given to people who were lonely or homeless, a lot of poor people," said Cesar Loarca, chairman of the Sullivan County Federation for the Homeless.
"We struggled for years to make it happen, and then Doug came along," he said. "This wouldn't happen without the support of the community."
Echoing similar sentiments about how those more fortunate souls in the area pitch in to help out folks down on their luck a bit to have a traditional Thanksgiving meal, Wiltsey said, "It's very important for people to have a sense of home."
Tom's Kitchen is currently located at the Seventh Day Adventist meeting hall, but will soon be moving to new quarters at the former Foothills Community Center.
Tom's Kitchen serves hot meals twice a day, Monday through Friday: breakfast (8:30 a.m-9:30 a.m.) and lunch (11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.). On Fridays, a food pantry is open to get people through the weekend.
The Sullivan County Federation for the Homeless will be holding its annual Christmas Eve Dinner on December 24 at 4:30 p.m. For information, call 794-2604.