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In the midst of a worldwide pandemic, Chapel Haven Schleifer Center advised our residential students and our 150 community members to stay within our Chapel Haven community this Thanksgiving, to avoid the risk of transmission from attending big events.

That’s an easy message to impart, given the CDC’s warnings about the dangers of Thanksgiving celebrations outside your “pod” and with big groups of people.

But it was much harder to swallow for individuals who longed to go home, gather with family and enjoy a time-held tradition.

That’s where Chapel Haven’s amazing staff came to the rescue.

From the Chapel Haven cafe to each of our programs, staff went out of their way to home-cook and deliver nearly 100 meals to students and community members on the big day.

Sunny in her kitchen

Sunny Richards, director of community programs at Chapel Haven, spent her Thanksgiving Day in her kitchen at home, churning out 40 home-cooked meals that her son Connor, a high school senior, and a friend later delivered all around our community.

“Although we were unable to have a group dinner for community members this year, we delivered 39 meals to them earlier this afternoon,” Sunny said on the big day. “Connor (my son) and his friend took all the orders and helped prepare the food yesterday. It was our ‘largest’ dinner ever paid for by the Schleifer family!”

Connor and friend making the deliveries!

It should be noted that this is not unusual for Sunny, who usually brings her family to Chapel Haven on Thanksgiving Day and cooks the turkey dinner on site, enjoying a sit-down meal with anyone who did not go home for T-Day.

Students and community members were truly grateful. “Thanks to the Richards family,” wrote John Orr in a text. “It was very sweet of you preparing meals for those individuals who have chosen to stay in New Haven because of COVID-19 and don’t feel safe going home to visit their loved ones. You and your family are highly commended for your thoughtfulness to making our Chapel Haven family feel loved.”

“I just wanted to send a special thank you for everything that you do for Shawn and all of the Chapel Haven community- especially during this challenging time,” parent Lauren Roecker wrote in an email to Sunny. “You are all an inspiration to me and my family and we thank you for being our guardian angels and bringing us comfort from afar.”

In Chapel Haven’s Asperger Syndrome Adult Transition (ASAT) program, VP of Autism Programs Gina Apicella put the word out that she was looking for volunteers to form a Chapel Haven “Gobble Squad.” She got an overwhelming response from staff eager to help.

The turkey was cooked by Rich LaManna and Maurice Morrison in the Chapel Haven cafe. ASAT staffers made all the sides. The ASAT staff turned out 15 home-cooked meals with turkey and all the trimmings – mashed potatoes, stuffing, sweet potatoes, biscuits, fruit salad, pies. etc.

Jason and the Gobble Squad

“We had staff volunteers sign up to make portions of the meal for our students and community members here for Thanksgiving,” Gina said. “We assembled all the to-go meals and delivered them to everybody.” Then, everybody jumped on Zoom at 5 p.m. for a virtual Thanksgiving Day meal altogether.

“Everyone was so happy to participate and be on our Gobble Squad,” Gina said.

In the SAIL program, a full Thanksgiving Day meal was prepared by staff and served to 25 residents. And in the REACH program, evening supervisor Sue Peters and her team cooked a full turkey dinner and set a gorgeous table in the REACH program’s Student Lounge for students to enjoy.

The response from parents and adults has been amazing.

“So proud of such a wonderful family,” said parent and board chair Peggy Baker. “The Chapel Haven staff just makes my insides feel so great. What a beautiful thing to do for someone.”

Sitting down to dinner in the REACH program

“Thank you to everyone who made Thanksgiving away from home special,” said parent Kim Zichichi, whose son PJ just began at Chapel Haven.

“Thank you so much, Sunny, Connor and his friend! Christopher said his meal was delicious! Special thanks to Harriet Schleifer,” wrote sibling Helen Murray on Chapel Haven’s Facebook page.

“Wow,” wrote Linda Peck, Chapel Haven parent. “What an amazing team at Chapel Haven! Taking good care of its community members!”

Whitney with the cranberry!

“Thank you for the Thanksgiving meal, it was so yummy!” said community member Rose R.

“We wanted to let you know how touched we are by your including David in your Thanksgiving sharing,” wrote parent Donald Kornblet. “David raved about the meal, and more importantly, it made him feel connected during this holiday period when he was not at home.”

Thank you to our staff. You put so much heart into everything you do. We are lucky!