Athens Pizza and Pasta in Auburn, Washington is hosting a free Thanksgiving dinner. This will be the seventh year for their annual dinner. Each year the number of guests in attendance increases, having reached over 700 guests. This year’s goal is to serve 800 guests.
Inspiration Leads to Impact
Inspired by two friends, Nina and Bill Contoravdis with Bill’s brother and business partner, Tom, began hosting their free Thanksgiving Dinner at Athens Pizza and Pasta in 2011. Fellow restauranteurs, George & Andreas Psaras hosted an annual Thanksgiving dinner at their Stanton, CA restaurant, Harry’s Café. The Contoravdises wanted to replicate the positive community impact these yearly dinners had. “My brother-in-law Tom, my husband Bill and I started this tradition serving the Thanksgiving day meal to give back to our amazing community,” said Nina Contoravdis.
“We have been blessed to be in business since 1980, and it’s because of [the] community that [has] supported us over the years,” Nina Contoravdis continued. “There are so many people out there with nowhere to go on Thanksgiving day, and we want everyone to know that you’re always welcome at Athens Pizza. Guests can stay as long as they want and eat as much as they want while they are here.”
The yearly meal consists of traditional Thanksgiving fixins’. Nina Contoravdis described the meal served, “we serve a roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, cranberry sauce, dinner rolls, and pumpkin pie. Zola‘s Café always donates amazing cinnamon muffins as well.”
More Than Just a Meal
Athens’ Thanksgiving meal is more than just free food. It’s about feeding the soul as well. “We welcome everyone for the meal, but we have noticed over the years that the homeless community has significantly grown in Auburn. We want them all to know they can come in and enjoy a warm meal on Thanksgiving day and feel at home. Many of our volunteers will sit down and converse with our guests. They talk to them & make them feel welcome, and we are so thankful for all volunteers that take the time to do that,” shared Nina Contoravdis.
Approximately 150 guests attended the first Thanksgiving dinner Athens Pizza and Pasta hosted. Expecting more, the Contoravdises had cooked for 500 guests. “We were all so disappointed that we couldn’t get more people inside the restaurant to feed. We knew there were so many people out there that had nowhere to go, but they just didn’t know about it. That is our biggest battle is getting the word out there and getting the guests into the restaurant. A lot of homeless just don’t have transportation and can’t get to us.”
Adding Seats to the Table
The Contoravdises partnered with Randy Simon to spread awareness for their event. Simon leads Barbers Against Hunger and owns the Auburn Valley Barbershop on E. Main Street. “[Bill] and our three sons have been getting their haircut from Randy at Auburn Valley Barbershop for many years. Bill has supported [Simon] with his Coat Drives, lunches, and other community events he shares,” explained Nina Contoravdis.
Volunteering their time, Barbers Against Hunger is a great asset to the annual Thanksgiving dinner. Members volunteer their time promoting the annual dinner, serving the meal to guests, and donating pumpkin pies.
Over 700 guests are now served at the dinners. Any leftover food is taken to the Tacoma Rescue Mission. “The number of guests has definitely grown over the years and keeps increasing. We are so thankful for that, but it also shows us the increase of homeless out there on the streets,” said Nina Contoravdis.
Being Blessed to Give Back
Athens Pizza and Pasta also makes and hands out blessing bags. The bags are given to many of the homeless that come in. The blessing bags contain warm gloves, a winter cap, socks, snacks, and toiletries. Community donations help purchase supplies for the blessing bags.
Nina Contoravdis described assembling the blessing bags, “all three of our sons and all their friends come over to my house for a pasta dinner and then we have an assembly line to make the blessing bags. It warms my heart to see all these teenagers have such a great time putting these blessing bags together. They all know how blessed they are and are so excited to do this for people in need that are not so fortunate.”
“Community members have helped so much with all their monetary donations and hours of volunteering at the event. All the funds that are raised for this event are from loyal customers, local businesses and our food distributors we order from,” said Nina Contoravdis, expressing her gratitude.
The More, the Merrier
The Contoravdis’ goal is to feed as many people as possible! Here’s how you can help: share the event. Go into Athens, pick up flyers and pass out in local parks, train stations and all around the community. Tell anyone you know about the dinner. They do not want anyone left out just because they did not know about the event. And did we mention to spread the word?
“We can all work together in different ways to create a beautiful warm atmosphere and a delicious traditional Thanksgiving day meal that can Bring joy to someone that otherwise wouldn’t have anywhere to go or anyone to talk to on this Thanksgiving day holiday,” said Nina Contoravdis.