Thanksgiving in Denver, from free frozen birds to $ 200 from Reuters

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Wild turkeys cross a street on the eve of Thanksgiving in Staten Island

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By Ann Saphir and Kevin Mohatt

SAN FRANCISCO / DENVER (Reuters) – The United States has a Thanksgiving Day like no other.

More than 20 million people have some form of unemployment insurance and a new wave of layoffs ensues as restaurants and other personal businesses close amid a surge in novel coronavirus infections filling hospital beds.

Although health officials have discouraged travel, millions have done it, raising fears of further infections. Wealthier Americans, isolated from the economic downturn, and those hardest hit by it, prepare for Thursday’s annual festival in different ways.

The U.S.’s recovery from the pandemic has been remarkably mixed: some Americans worked from home, saved and spent a lot of money online, while others struggled to pay rent and groceries after their jobs were gone.

This is especially true for tourism-dependent states like Colorado, which attracted nearly 90 million visitors in 2019 thanks to its Rocky Mountain resorts and vast national parks. Since the coronavirus outbreak, the number of unemployed in the state has more than doubled to about 200,000, and the number of employees has decreased by 5%.

Employment fell 18% among Colorado’s worst-paid workers, who earn less than $ 27,000, according to Opportunity Insights, a collaboration between Harvard University, Brown University and the Gates Foundation. Employment in the leisure and hospitality industry has fallen by 23%.

Graphic: Do you have a job? Depends on what you earn – https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-ECONOMY/THANKSGIVING/jbypredreve/chart.png

Meanwhile, over $ 1 million in luxury real estate sales have boomed in Denver and other metropolitan areas as tech industry executives who work from home seek more space.

The one-sided economy plays out in restaurants and food banks across Denver this Thanksgiving Day.

7,500 FREE FROZEN TURKEY

The Food Bank of the Rockies is giving away Thanksgiving turkeys for the first time in recent years.

They were easier to come by thanks to turkey glut caused by fewer families eating big dinners and fewer companies handing out birds to their employees, CEO Erin Pulling said.

The organization also prepared 1,200 Thanksgiving meals and served thousands of holiday food boxes distributed by their partners.

“I don’t know that even with this amount of food, I’m not sure we’re meeting the needs,” said Pulling. About 30% to 40% of families who have access to help have never needed help with eating before, she said.

Last month, the Denver-based organization handed out a record £ 10 million of food, compared to its pre-crisis monthly average of £ 5.5 million. In order to cope with the additional work, she increased her temporary and permanent staff by around 40% to 178 people.

“When COVID hit we thought it would be three to six months and we would get back to normal. Three months later we thought six to twelve months. Now we think maybe two years,” Pulling said. “We expect this to be a long-term effort.”

4,000 GIFT CAKES

Denver boss Alex Seidel witnessed the uneven beat of the COVID crisis first hand. His high-end restaurant Fruition, which extends from the courtyard to the table, is scratching this year with the help of loyal neighborhood fans. For Thanksgiving, customers can shop for side dishes like a $ 19 wild onion filling or a $ 11 serving of cranberry relish.

His lower-priced grilled chicken chain, Chook, which will open its third store next month, sold their $ 60 Thanksgiving meals for four. In the meantime, he had to close his downtown restaurant, Mercantile, due to the decline in transit through Denver’s Union Station. The decision got his co-owned bakery Fudmill, which makes pastries for its restaurants, in trouble.

Until he received an order for 4,000 pumpkin, apple and pecan tarts from Centura Health, Colorado’s largest healthcare provider, which was made available to all employees in two of his hospitals in the Denver area. “That will save quite a bit this year,” said Seidel.

Carrie Bach, executive director of the St. Anthony Health Foundation, said the drive-by-pie giveaway was intended to improve the morale of nurses, doctors, and other caregivers who are inundated with COVID-19 cases.

THE $ 200 TURDUCKEN

Last week, chef Elise Wiggins laid off most of the staff at her Italian restaurant, Cattivella, after Denver shut down indoor dining.

Then the native Louisian boned 50 chickens, put them in 50 ducks, and then in 50 turkeys. These French Cajun Thanksgiving specials feed eight through twelve.

Wiggens’ Turduckens, which sell for $ 200 each, will surprise her when she tackles her next project – a 1962 Shasta camper converted into a food truck. Starting Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, she’ll be serving fried chicken, cookies, red beans, and everything else to residents and visitors to the upscale neighborhood on the grounds of the old Denver Airport.

“We’re warp to open Little Chick,” she says of the food truck parked near her now largely dormant restaurant. “These turduckens will really really help financially – that’s a good deal of change.”

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