Guthrie Thanksgiving

The Guthrie Center in Great Barrington is still hosting its free community Thanksgiving meal. But to accommodate for the COVID-19 pandemic, the center is distributing its annual meal takeout style.

GREAT BARRINGTON — Not even COVID-19 could cancel this Thanksgiving meal.

Not at “Arlo’s Church,” at least.

This year, the annual free community dinner at the Guthrie Center will be served takeout style to accommodate for the pandemic.

Samel’s Deli and Catering in Pittsfield is still cooking up and donating the feast, as it has for more than a decade. The Old Mill in Egremont is sending the apple crisp.

It’s all going into biodegradable containers, and ones that separate the gravy from the dessert, said George Laye, the center’s director.

He wants it to be beautiful.

“We’re not just throwing food at people, we’re trying to help them have a nice Thanksgiving,” he said. “It’s the Thanksgiving that couldn’t be canceled.”

So far, more than 60 people have made reservations for the meal that will be distributed on Thursday morning, and there’s food enough for 150 according to Laye.

“They can still call,” he said.

It was more than 50 years ago that then-troubadour Arlo Guthrie and a friend found the dump closed on Thanksgiving, and so hauled trash from the former Trinity Church — now the Guthrie Center — to a Stockbridge ravine and tossed it over the edge.

Their arrest for littering sparked Guthrie’s legendary anti-war, talking blues song, “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree,” named for the Stockbridge restaurant owned by Alice Brock, who lived in the church bellt tower with her husband, Ray.

It set off a cult-classic movie about the incident, exploding the fan base for the song and the Guthrie legend.

Guthrie eventually purchased the church and turned it into a performing arts and community center that provides free community lunches ever week, as well as other free services.

Laye says Thanksgiving is the heart of it all. Between that and all the center’s free meals, Laye says he’s moved by gratitude from those who receive them.

“Sometimes they have tears in their eyes,” he said. “That’s why I’m here.”

Laye searched for the right containers, and used the $250 proceeds from a tag sale to buy them. Samel’s will bring the food down Wednesday night, and a small group of volunteers taking COVID-19 precautions will see to the rest.

“Everyone’s gonna have a full belly, and the gravy’s not going to be in their dessert,” he said. “All they have to do is go warm it up.”

To make a reservation for a meal, call the Guthrie Center at 413-528-1955.

Heather Bellow can be reached at or 413-329-6871. On Twitter