Virus Puts Thanksgiving Tradition on the Back Burner

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BENEVOLENT RESTAURATEUR: Duffy’s owner Eddie Chamat hopes to resume his restaurant’s free Thanksgiving meals next year.

Contributing Editor 
Upwards of 1,000 people will need to make new Thanksgiving dinner plans this year. 
Eddie Chamat, owner of Duffy’s Restaurant in Broken Arrow, says because of the coronavirus he had no choice but to put his 32-year-old offer of free Thanksgiving meals on the back burner – at least for now.  
The look in Chamat’s eyes shows clearly how painful that decision was. 
“It’s not the money,” he said. “I would have paid the money. But social distancing rules require us to close half our booths and tables. If you have ever been here on Thanksgiving, you know we are packed. There is no way I could make this thing work under those conditions.” 
The event, which has become a holiday tradition, has special meaning to Chamat above being away of saying thank you to the community for its support. Its roots date back to the time when he was 20 years old and had just left his home in Damascus, Syria to study at Oklahoma State University. 
He once told Food Critic Scott Cherry, “I lost my bags in New York, and all I had was the clothes on my back when I got to Stillwater. It was freezing, sleeting and snowing when I got dropped off at the bus station. I didn’t know where to go or what to do. I noticed a guy at the bus station made a phone call and pretty soon an older lady in a big Cadillac picked me up, bought me a Big Mac and took me to her house to get warm. I’ll never forget the taste of that Big Mac. It was delicious.” 
It was then and there that Chamat vowed to find a way to repay this act of kindness.  
Three decades ago, the majority of Duffy’s holiday meals were served to people who couldn’t afford to buy them. But as word spread, attendance began to grow, reaching the 800-1,000 meals level served in recent years. 
He says it takes about a month to put all of the pieces of this event together. Many of his employees volunteer to help. Also pitching in are churches, civic organizations, townspeople and regular restaurant customers who devote some of their holiday time to help serve and cleanup afterwards.  
What about next year?  
Chamat says he hopes this pandemic is resolved by then so he can once again serve free turkey dinners with all the trimmings to everybody wanting them. 
It is something, he says, he has always been thankful for the opportunity to do.

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