By Raphael Solomon, Public Affairs Intern at U.S. Embassy Wellington.
As a local kiwi working with the Embassy, it is fun to experience some of those quintessential American customs. They are the classic tropes that you always see on TV, but it’s still a bit intriguing to see that they really exist beyond that. Last week was of course Thanksgiving, with all the turkey gobbling and pumpkin decorations that go along with that.
The United States Embassy hosts an annual event in conjunction with Wellington’s Downtown Community Ministry (DCM), serving a Thanksgiving lunch for hungry and homeless people in Wellington. It was a great way to spend the day, serving superb food cooked up by the Wellington Chef’s Association and Weltec students to a packed hall of people who really appreciated the gesture.
Each of the Embassy staff, and the other volunteers, chose a table to wait upon and we were all quickly caught up in the mad bustle of piling our arms with plates to serve the more-than 200 guests who were present. The meal consisted of characteristic Thanksgiving dishes, with roast turkey with all the trimmings and pumpkin pie and ice cream. It followed a speech from the Ambassador and a rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” accompanied by the DCM’s ukulele band and our own Rob Tate on guitar.
I spent a lot of time talking with the six people at my table. Seeing the extent of the homelessness problem in Wellington was quite disconcerting, especially as it is an issue not often in the public eye. It did indeed make me feel thankful for all that I have. However, the positivity and optimism of all the attendees as they laughed, sang, played ukulele and (of course) ate was very uplifting in itself.
One older gentleman at my table, Bob, told me stories from his youth of traveling with a circus and having recently been reunited with his brother, from whom he had been separated at birth. From his glasses case he took out a piece of paper that read, “Learn from yesterday, live for today and hope for tomorrow,” a quote from Albert Einstein that he reads each day.
Thanksgiving is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on all we have, a chance to express our thanks, and give back to the community It was an experience that neither myself, nor all who attended this year, will soon forget.
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