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Rochester families get creative with socially distant Thanksgiving plans

Alex Turner
Alex Turner's family gathers over a video call to make Albanian pie.

Family gatherings at Thanksgiving are a tradition, but with the coronavirus pandemic, they can also be risky.

Some local families are finding ways around that. Alex Turner’s family has a new ritual.

“We just set up a video call, set the computer up somewhere in the kitchen, and then we cook and we talk and we lift up the plate to the camera and say, 'Is this about how it’s supposed to look?' ” Turner said.

Turner’s family’s approach is almost like an interactive, personal cooking show. Instead of 40 to 60 relatives gathering for Thanksgiving dinner, Turner said they can connect this way instead. It's nice, he said, but it's not a substitute.

“Oh, it’s not going to be anything like it,” he said. “We’re so used to having that great big everyone around the same table having fun playing board games. So it’s going to be really hard.”

However, public health officials say Turner is doing the right thing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is advising people to keep gatherings small and avoid unnecessary travel.

For Kellie Gauvin, Thanksgiving already happened. She said her mother called the family together on an unseasonably warm weekend in early November, and they held a Thanksgiving-style feast in the garage.

“It was almost a little bit nicer and more relaxed because there wasn’t the big rush once everything gets out of the oven and getting everyone into the room,” said Gauvin.

Gauvin said that her parents are at high risk of complications if they contract the virus, so they’ve had to be extremely cautious while still finding ways to celebrate together. And not just Thanksgiving, but birthdays, too.

“I could bring my kids over and my parents would sit on the deck and we would be able to sit at the pool with the kids and yell back and forth to each other but at a big distance,” she said.

As winter approaches, those outdoor gatherings are less and less viable. Gauvin said they’re looking into using outdoor heaters for limited, special gatherings when the time comes.

And when it comes to actual Thanksgiving Day, Gauvin said that she and her mother will likely swap pumpkin pies and stuffing.

Credit Stephanie Townsend
In 2019, Stephanie Townsend's family gathered around the table for Thanksgiving dinner. This year, they will celebrate over Zoom.

But not everyone has the luxury of seeing their family in person, even at a distance.

Over at Stephanie Townsend’s home, Thanksgiving is going to be a bit similar to her remote work -- it will be held over Zoom.

“We are planning on setting the laptop on our table, they’ll have a laptop on their table, and we will eat at the same time so that we can be there together in spirit during the meal,” Townsend said.

Townsend said that while there’s no replacing time together in person, keeping family safe matters more than one holiday gathering.

“We will miss seeing the little ones especially, but again, it is one year and it’s more important that we be healthy and safe,” she said.

As for Turner’s virtual Thanksgiving kitchen, to him, it’s also worth it in the long run.

“I’ve got to love my family enough to stay away,” Turner said. “As much as it hurts to not see them on Thanksgiving -- especially when we see each other maybe three times a year and that’s one of those big ones -- to miss that is a huge cost. But the cost if it were unsafe and someone were to get COVID-19 is just unimaginable.”

Noelle E. C. Evans is an education reporter/producer with a background in documentary filmmaking and education.
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