Thanksgiving. When you hear it, you probably immediately think of all kinds of things – turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, family, old friends, wine, pie, football, naps. It’s one of those holidays where it’s perfectly acceptable to just sit around the house all day eating, drinking and dozing off.
But for so many people, the holiday isn’t so rosy. For those who don’t have anywhere to go, or anything to eat, it’s just another cold day.
That’s why Kosmas Smirnioudis, owner of the Windmill Family Restaurant on Loudon Road, will once again be serving up hot Thanksgiving meals to anyone who wants one, free of charge, on the holiday. It’s a tradition his family restaurant started in 1990, and there are no plans of stopping any time soon.
“It’s about giving back to the community, giving to those who don’t have a place to go, a home,” Smirnioudis said. “It gives them a sense of, you’re not invisible.”
The tradition was started by Smirnioudis’s father, Louie, who opened the restaurant in 1990. That very first year of operation, Louie partnered with the Friendly Kitchen to offer meals for those who had nowhere to go for Thanksgiving. About 30 people enjoyed hot meals that year, and the tradition has taken off since then.
Last year, for example, the Windmill served about 1,200 meals. That’s a lot of turkey – 72 turkeys, in fact, which is the goal again this year, Kosmas Smirnioudis said.
Anyone who’s ever prepared just a single turkey for a Thanksgiving dinner knows that it’s an all-day affair getting everything ready. How could one small family restaurant possibly handle preparing 1,200 of these meals?
Well, they have a lot of help.
“People donate pies – I have a group of ladies who all just bake away,” Smirnioudis said. “They bring in their homemade pies, people throughout the town bake them and send them in. It’s a community thing. For as big as it’s gotten, I have to be grateful that I have a bunch of volunteers that are willing to help and donate and support. That’s the whole point of this.”
Since the restaurant has been doing this for 27 years – this will be the 28th – a lot of people know about it. That’s how this event is able to come together. It’s a universally praised effort, and the community tends to show its appreciation for what Smirnioudis does by pitching in whatever they can, such as pies. But it doesn’t stop there.
While it’s great to receive dozens of pies that are all ready to eat, there’s still a ton of work that goes into preparing all the vegetables and turkeys that need to be cooked. Just like the pies, there are volunteers for that.
“I get kids from Bishop Brady, Broken Ground, families that come in here for breakfast and want their kids to experience what it is to volunteer their time,” Smirnioudis said. And it’s a good thing, too – when you have 300 pounds of potatoes to peel, you need all the helping hands you can get.
The fact that so many members of the community help out is what makes the event such a perfect representation of what Thanksgiving is all about. It also ties in to why the elder Smirnioudis, who died five years ago, did this in the first place.
“My dad first started this because when he first came to this country (from Greece), he was so grateful to those who opened their houses and let him stay, and get started in life.”
It’s all tied in. The community helps Smirnioudis, who in turn helps the community, and round and round it goes.
Meals will be offered at Windmill Family Restaurant on Thanksgiving from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. All the usual trappings – turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, potatoes, vegetables, squash, rolls, pie – will be accounted for. Nobody will be turned away, and there’s no need to apply, register, reserve or anything like that – just show up if you want a meal. And don’t be afraid to bring something with you, or leave something – like a donation – before you leave. It’s all part of trying to create a welcoming, family atmosphere.
“There’s people out there that don’t have anyone to have thanksgiving with,” Smirnioudis said. “We do our best to make them feel like they’re home and they’re a part of our family.”