I have an annual calendar reminder in my phone to reach out to the Thanksgiving Hotline at Equinox, Inc. in Albany, to secure my spot chopping carrots and peeling potatoes with a group of coworkers.

I have been volunteering for a decade to help prepare the annual Equinox Community Dinner, which feeds 11,000 individuals in need. However, this year, I got an email before I got my reminder.

As I keep saying, like a broken record it seems, things will be different because of the pandemic. And this is no different. No one will be allowed to volunteer to prepare food for the Capital Region’s largest, and longest-running Thanksgiving charity event, which is a tradition for so many local folks.

Instead, the nonprofit is asking supporters and would-be volunteers to help it raise $100,000 to purchase 10,000 Thanksgiving meals. They’re also asking for drivers to then deliver those meals to those community members who need them.

If you’re unfamiliar, Equinox serves youth, adults, and families whose lives have been impacted by domestic violence, drug and alcohol addictions, mental illness, homelessness, and the challenges of living amid poverty and violence. They also coordinate an annual Thanksgiving Community Dinner. With the support of nearly 4,000 volunteers, the organization provides a holiday meal to more than 10,000 individuals in difficult circumstances within a 50-mile radius of Albany.

“We could have decided to cancel the whole thing,” said Nancy Virkler, Equinox’s Hotline Coordinator, “but instead we challenged our logistics team, and taught a bunch of retired volunteers how to use Google sheets.”

That dedication is what’s driving this year’s event. The team saw how the pandemic is curtailing large events – and also its significant impact on the restaurant industry – and decided to make that sweet lemonade out of proverbial lemons and involve restaurant partners, who would then also be given a financial boost from the purchase of the meals.

Here’s how it will work:

1. The community donates $100,000
2. Equinox buys 10,000 meals from area restaurants, hotels, caterers, and hospital cafeterias
3. Volunteers deliver those meals from the restaurants to the community that needs them

It sounds simple, but of course, there’s a challenge in recruiting the restaurant partners, and in raising the funds. So spreading the word is the best way to accomplish these goals. St. Peter’s Health Partners has already donated 1,000 meals, which is a significant start.

Every year, Equinox hosts a ThanksGathering Gala to help thank volunteers and raise money for expenses from the Dinner that aren’t covered by previous donations. However, again, this will be different, and hosted virtually. So a major fundraising avenue for the nonprofit will be diminished as well.

Restaurateurs who want to become a partner, should reach out to Nancy Virkler at THotline@equinoxinc.org, to see if they meet the criteria. You can use the same email to reach Nancy if you would like to sign up to be a driver. There will be protocols for contactless pick up and drop off.

But the first hurdle is raising the money! So start those Facebook fundraisers! You can also click here to learn more about Equinox’s Peer-to-Peer fundraising option, or simply share Nancy’s fundraising link (https://bit.ly/333LkHU).

“I don’t want to decide who doesn’t get a meal (on Thanksgiving).”