Georgetown Family Restaurant has offered free holiday meals since 2006

Most Sussex County residents will likely spend their Thanksgiving dining on traditional holiday fare with family or friends.

But Georgetown Family Restaurant owners Vinnie and Steve Akoglu know that not everyone is so fortunate.

That’s why they’ve been giving away free Thanksgiving meals at their East Market Street eatery since 2006.

“When the economy went bad, we heard some of our customers say they couldn’t afford to make Thanksgiving dinner, so we decided to give it to them as a surprise,” Vinnie said.

“Some people don’t have family to eat with,” Steve added. “So this way we make them part of our family.”

The Akoglu brothers, who fittingly hail from Turkey, estimate that as many as 500 people will join this year’s Thanksgiving feast from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“It’s really grown,” Steve said. “Now, there is a big line of people waiting to get in.”

Serving that many people takes a lot of preparation, as the host of any family Thanksgiving dinner knows.

While the restaurant will begin preparing some of the items as early as Monday, the real work starts Wednesday morning and continues right up until the first meals are served.

“We’ll be cooking all night long,” Steve said. “Last year, we cooked 40 big turkeys.”

In addition to the bird, the Thanksgiving meals served at the Georgetown Family Restaurant also include macaroni and cheese, green beans, dressing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and cornbread. Dessert is also served, but the brothers say this year’s post-meal treat will be a surprise.

“Everyone gets the same thing,” Steve said. “We prepare the plates all exactly the same.”

Jenna Penuel, a waitress at the restaurant, said it can get pretty hectic feeding all those guests.

“Last year, we ran out of food,” she said. “This is the only place I’ve ever worked that gives away food for free, but I think it’s really great that they do this for the people who are alone or can’t afford to make Thanksgiving themselves.”

Vinnie said he remembers stepping outside during one Thanksgiving giveaway and being approached by a man, who apparently had been attracted by the crowd.

“He was sitting on the bench asking for change and when I came out, he offered me what he had collected and asked if he could have something to eat,” he recalled. “He couldn’t believe we were giving it away for free that day. It just makes me feel good to be able to help people like that.”

The Georgetown Family Restaurant’s Thanksgiving meal is co-sponsored by John, George and Pete Grokos, who co-own the Georgetown and Milford Pizza Palaces with the Akoglu brothers.