SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

November 18, 2013

Organic Garden 'pays it forward' for vegan Thanksgiving

By Angie Sykeny
Gordon College News Service

---- — BEVERLY — What’s a Thanksgiving without the turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes? For some, it’s an all-natural, vegan meal at the Organic Garden Café in Beverly.

The café will be hosting its third annual pay-it-forward Thanksgiving dinner, asking customers to pay what they can for a meal. Those who want to give back can pay more than the suggested price of $18.95 so that any additional amount goes toward a meal for someone who can’t afford it.

“I love the idea of anybody being able to walk in the door and get this incredible meal, even if they don’t have any money,” said café owner Rawbert Reid, 49, of Arlington. “It’s a great day to reach out to the community and people in need.”

The meal includes a “turkey-free” loaf — a dehydrated specialty made with sunflower seeds, walnuts, celery, onion and carrot— in addition to cranberry relish, pecan mushroom gravy and a choice of two sides. Diners can order the meal anytime during Thanksgiving week to prepare at home, or they can eat in-house on Thanksgiving Day between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. There will also be a “community table” for those who want to connect with others or make new friends.

Reid said he got the idea for a pay-it-forward program after visiting an organic and vegetarian café in San Francisco in 2009 that had a “grateful bowl” on its menu. He was inspired to add a grateful bowl to the Organic Garden Café’s menu, allowing customers to pay what they can (from $1 up) for a bowl of quinoa/rice mix, kale, bean sprouts, teriyaki almonds, carrots and scallions with lemon tahini sauce. Soon after, he expanded that idea to the pay-it-forward system for Thanksgiving and New Year’s.

Steve Crowley, 20, of Beverly, an occasional customer, said he is impressed by the idea and thinks it’s a great alternative to the traditional Thanksgiving plate.

“Eating organic can be really expensive, and many people can’t afford a Thanksgiving meal to begin with,” he said. “It’s great that there is a healthier organic option being offered for those people.”

According to Reid, the pay-it-forward system works out so that the café breaks even. About 50 percent of customers pay the suggested price, while 25 per cent get it for less or free and the other 25 percent pay extra. He estimates that between an email list, Facebook page and word of mouth, news about the Thanksgiving special reaches about 10,000 people. Judging by years past and by the café’s currently strong business, he expects a full house throughout the holiday.

The café’s employees are enthusiastic about the program as well. The team that works Thanksgiving Day is completely voluntary, meaning that no one is scheduled to work. Reid said employees choose to work that day because they want to serve the community.

Caroline Daugherty, 37, of Gloucester worked the Thanksgiving shift last year and will be working it again this year. She said she finds it encouraging that many people choose to pay-it-forward.

“It makes you believe more in humanity,” she said. “There are so many negative things in the world today, so to see that people still care and have each other’s backs — it makes you feel a great connection with everyone around you, especially on Thanksgiving.”