For the past three years, Dan Legueux and his team at New England’s Tap House Grill in Hooksett have been cooking up a storm around Thanksgiving to help people in need and thank those who make the greatest sacrifices for their communities.
What began as a partnership between New Hampshire Magazine, Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare and the Tap House during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 has turned into a twice-yearly event with additional support from New Hampshire Magazine advertisers, including Northeast Delta Dental.
This November, the Tap House is cooking up more than 3,000 fresh cooked meals for area veterans, nurses and families who are suffering from food insecurity.
“I like to please,” says Legueux, who has owned New England’s Tap House Grill for 11 years.
His team of restaurant staff and volunteers will prepare 500 turkey meals with all the fixings, 500 stuffed shells dinners and 500 chicken stir fry entrees for the New Hampshire Food Bank. They will also prepare an additional 80 to 100 fresh cooked meals and work with the VA Center for Development & Civic Engagement to serve a group of veteran families in need before Christmas, Legueux says. While the program is based in the Manchester area, it serves families statewide.
The fresh-cooked meals include organic vegetables grown on Legueux’s nearby Hip Peas Farm. His team also makes sure the meals are properly cooled to the right temperature before they are frozen to preserve their freshness and safeguard them.
“I have an obligation as a food purveyor to help others,” says Legueux, who adds the work inspires his family members, friends and the community to pitch in and do what they can to make a difference.
Meals of Thanks is also carried out in May during National Nurses Month, which is much appreciated by the staff at Elliot Hospital and Catholic Medical Center.
“Each year, when the “Meals of Thanks” team arrives in early May, the staff at the Elliot are so grateful to be recognized during Nurses Week. Many do not realize what they give up during the holiday season,” says Anne-Marie Hafeman, the Elliot’s director of community engagement. “To be honored during their recognition week really makes them feel valued and appreciated by the community. The Tap House goes all out for them with a complete, delicious hot meal.”
“Since 2020, they have reminded our team how much they appreciate their dedication to supporting patients and their families by providing meals for them during Nurses Week,” says Jennifer Cassin, CMC’s vice president and chief nursing officer.
The Meals of Thanks program is the brainchild of Joshua Auger, advertising sales manager for New Hampshire Magazine.
Auger recalls how badly restaurants were doing during the height of the pandemic when they were not allowed to serve anyone in their dining rooms and could only do take-out meals. Auger says the New England Tap House Grill’s employees were unable to work and their kitchen was dormant.
Auger approached Legueux to see if he would be interested in cooking fresh meals for health care workers at Manchester area hospitals. Legueux was onboard but would need an infusion of money to make it a reality. Auger lined up support from a few businesses to get the first Meals of Thanks underway, and it was a great success.
Legueux recalls his restaurant prepared 1,000 fresh-cooked meals for hospital workers, police officers and EMTs during the height of the pandemic. They prepared another 700 meals in 2021 and 1,500 meals last year.
Auger believes the cause resonated with the business community because they understood the great sacrifices that were being made by the brave men and women who cared for patients stricken with COVID-19 at area hospitals. All the while, many health care workers lived in fear they could bring the virus home to their loved ones but stayed the course.
After the first program, Harvard Pilgrim was so happy with the outcome they suggested to Auger the program be expanded to food insecure families across the state.
Nancy Mellitt, director of development at the NH Food Bank, says they will provide the distribution to those families. “We will receive the pre-made meals here at the food bank and will then distribute the meals through our Mobile Food Pantries while supplies last,” she adds.
The issue of food insecurity is keenly felt during the holiday season, but families who worry about having enough food to eat struggle with this issue year-round.
“There are approximately 7% of men, women and children and 8.5 percent of children in New Hampshire are food insecure,” Mellitt says. “As we know, with the rising cost of food, housing, etc., these numbers may be higher currently.”
The Meals of Thanks program shows what the business community can do when it decides to pool its resources and take action. The need for fresh-cooked meals is so great that program organizers believe it should not be limited to the holiday season. With sufficient business support, this program could be offered once every six months or even on a quarterly basis. The magazine is actively putting the next program together right now. If your business would like to sponsor the December Meals of Thanks program, contact Josh Auger at [email protected].