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Thanksgiving at Willingway
Mooney family keeps holiday meal tradition at Boro treatment facility
Rosie Snead handles all of the baking chores at Willingway. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff
    A recent patient of Willingway Hospital who resides in California sent the Dietary Staff a box of fine candies with a thank you note enclosed.  It read, “Hello everyone. Thank you for the yummy food you prepared with so much care every day.  I got so spoiled!  I have learned how to eat grits the proper way. And all the breakfasts, lunches, dinners and desserts were always an extra treat every day.  You brought an extra touch of happiness to my day.  God bless!” Marie
    That special care is the cornerstone on which Willingway Hospital has built its reputation as one of the premier alcoholism and drug dependency hospitals, treating over 20,000 patients since 1971.
    With Willingway Hospital being privately owned by the Mooney family, traditions run deep during the holiday season as the menu is prepared for the Thanksgiving feast.  “It's a custom with the Mooney family to offer the same menu every year,” said Gene Brinson, dietary and nutritional manager.  “Our recipes date back to the 1960s and we have preserved them through the years in a special book.”  The yellowed recipe pages, checkered with handwritten notes and smears of oil, attest to the popularity of the time-honored favorites.
    As the dietary staff of 10 carefully prepares for Thanksgiving, their main goal is to make the patients feel at home since they're away from their families for the holidays.  “Our menu is very diverse to accommodate many regional palates of patients from near and far.  “We have mashed potatoes for those who prefer those as well as cornbread dressing for patients who are accustomed to that side dish,” adds Brinson.   The staff also decorates the 48-seat dining room for the celebratory meal.  A carving station, white linens, centerpieces, harvest-style mats and pumpkins adorn the tables for the holiday celebration.  
    All desserts are prepared by Rosie Snead, the hospital's baker; and her homemade creations are well known in the community due to the popularity of the Farmer's Market.  Shoppers come early Saturday mornings to purchase “Cakes by Rosie,” which include her pound cakes and moist apple cakes, which sell out quickly.
    The hospital's recreation department plans a special outing for the patients every Thanksgiving with a trip to the Mann Center in Brooklet.  A gratitude sharing meeting is held in the chapel followed by the traditional lunch of chili, corn muffins, pasta salad and homemade baked cookies.  The afternoon activities include a competitive game of softball, walks around the lake and old-fashioned fellowship.  “We have something for everyone,” said Tracie Smith, Willingway's clinical director.    “Even if a patient doesn't play softball, we always need coaches, cheerleaders and fans.” After a full day of recreation and reflection, patients return to the hospital and dinner is served at 5:30 p.m.
    Following the blessing by Dr. Bobby Mooney or Jimmy Mooney, the patients enjoy the fruits of the dietary department's labor.  “Every meal that is prepared here is done with love,” said Brinson. “There's nothing more rewarding than seeing the expressions on the patients' faces as they indulge in this sumptuous meal.  But more importantly, we witness their new outlook on life, continued improvement in health and sobriety on Thanksgiving; and for that we are always thankful.”
Rosie Snead handles all of the baking chores at Willingway.

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