Ray Boggs, 83, took a break from dinner on Monday afternoon, stepping out onto the deck of Tacoma’s waterfront Lobster Shop to snap a few photos of a pair of cormorants balanced together on a piling.
Back inside, Boggs’ friend Mary Randall Hammett was just finishing her meal.
“This is the first time I’ve been here,” she said. “The people were so gracious and kind. This is so good of them.”
Over two sittings — and for the 33rd year — volunteers at the restaurant served 180 low-income seniors in each of two seatings at a traditional meal of turkey and a full array of trimmings.
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Many of the guests came dressed in holiday finery, with high-fashion hats and no lack of sequins and sparkles for the women and more than a few ties for the men. Restaurant staff, all volunteers, had no trouble moving seats to accommodate wheelchairs or finding space for walkers and canes.
Lobster Shop owner Denny Driscoll was not keen for attention.
“We’ve never advertised it or asked for publicity,” he said. “That’s not why we’re doing it. We want to do it for those who might not be able to do for themselves.”
Invitations are tendered with the help of the city and various senior centers.
“When we first opened up, we were doing well,” Driscoll said. “I was fortunate. We wanted to share the success and give people an experience they might not have had. Some of them look forward to this all year.”
At a table nearby and by way of sharing grace, Andrew Labrecque begins leading the crowd in “God Bless America.”
“I wait for it every year,” Labrecque said. “It’s unreal, the way they take care of us. It tells me people are good. The food’s great. It’s a real Thanksgiving meal.”
As his turkey settled toward room temperature, Labrecque took out a harmonica and began to play.
Sharen Ahrens manages two Senior Housing Assistance Group properties near Wright Park, and she accompanied perhaps 50 guests to dinner on Monday.
“They were already asking about it in mid-October,” Ahrens said. “They don’t get to come into places like this often. They’re so appreciative of anything people do for them. I wish others would take care of seniors like the Lobster Shop and the city does.”
“Treat others as you would treat yourself,” said Loretta Klinglehoffer, 91. “Be kind to people.”
Said James Sutter of Tacoma, “For a lot of us, this is our only Thanksgiving. We’re not down-and-outers, we’re just old.”
Veronica LaFrance came to dinner with friends from the Beacon Senior Activities Center.
“Each year has been absolutely sensational. For the owner to do this, it’s beyond what words can express,” she said. “The food was delicious, well-seasoned. I say that and I’m a Southerner.”
Among the volunteers were perhaps 45 workers from each of Driscoll’s three restaurants including Boathouse 19 in Tacoma and Tanglewood Grill in Gig Harbor. Volunteers also hailed from the City of Tacoma.
Lobster Shop general manager Tracie Strayer said, “It just warms my heart. This is a good kickoff to the holiday season.”
“I think it’s good to give back to the community,” said Justin Mevs, the company’s executive chef.
“This lets seniors know they’re not forgotten,” he said. “It’s always nice to see someone smile.”
“Someday, I would like somebody to do this for me,” said Lobster Shop executive chef Juan Olivares
“I do it because it’s the right thing to do, in my opinion,” said Driscoll. “The gratitude is just overwhelming.”
This was the first volunteering effort for newly retired Superior Court Judge Tom Felnagle, who spent much of the afternoon clearing tables.
“People are so grateful,” he said.
“We take a lot for granted.”