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Grateful diners can pay it forward, meal-style

Diners at the Organic Garden Cafe in Beverly can donate toward meals for people who can’t afford them.

Angie Sykeny

Diners at the Organic Garden Cafe in Beverly can donate toward meals for people who can’t afford them.

BEVERLY — What’s Thanksgiving without the turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes? For some, it’s an all-natural, vegan meal at the Organic Garden Cafe in Beverly.

Even better is when that meal can help those less fortunate enjoy the holiday as well.

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The cafe will be hosting its third pay-it-forward Thanksgiving dinner, asking customers to pay what they can for a meal — or pay more than the suggested price of $18.95. Any additional amount goes toward a meal for someone who can’t afford it.

“I love the idea of anybody being able to walk in the door and get this incredible meal, even if they don’t have any money,” said the cafe’s owner, Rawbert Reid, 49, of Arlington. “It’s a great day to reach out to the community and people in need.”

The meal includes a “turkey-free” loaf — made with sunflower seeds, walnuts, celery, onion, and carrots — along with cranberry relish, pecan mushroom gravy, and a choice of two sides. Diners can order the meal anytime during Thanksgiving week to take home, or they can eat at the cafe on Thanksgiving Day between 11 a.m and 3 p.m. In line with the spirit of the holiday, there will be a community table for those who want to connect with others or make new friends.

Reid said he first got the idea for a pay-it-forward program when visiting an organic and vegetarian cafe in San Francisco in 2009 that had a “grateful bowl” on its menu. A customer could pay more than the regular price so others could get the dish for less. He was immediately inspired to add a grateful bowl to the Organic Garden Cafe’s menu — a serving of quinoa/rice mix, kale, bean sprouts, teriyaki almonds, carrots, and scallions with lemon tahini sauce — and asked customers to pay what they could (from $1 up). Soon afterward, he expanded that concept to whole meals for Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.

Steve Crowley, 20, of Beverly, an occasional customer, said he is impressed by the idea and thinks it is a great alternative to the traditional Thanksgiving plate.

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“Eating organic can be really expensive, and many people can’t afford a Thanksgiving meal to begin with,” he said. “It’s great that there is a healthier organic option being offered for those people.”

According to Reid, the pay-it-forward system works out so that the cafe breaks even. About 50 percent of customers pay the suggested price while 25 per cent buy it for less or free and the other 25 percent pay extra. He estimates that between an e-mail list, Facebook page, and word of mouth, news about the Thanksgiving special reaches about 10,000 people. Judging by years past and by the cafe’s currently strong business, he expects a full house throughout the holiday.

The cafe’s employees are enthusiastic about the program as well. The team that works Thanksgiving Day is voluntary, meaning that no workers are scheduled — employees come in because they want to be a part of the cafe’s service to the community, Reid said.

Caroline Daugherty, 37, of Gloucester, worked the Thanksgiving shift last year and will be working it again this year. She said she finds it encouraging that many people choose to pay-it-forward.

“It makes you believe more in humanity,” she said. “There are so many negative things in the world today, so to see that people still care and have each other’s backs — it makes you feel a great connection with everyone around you, especially on Thanksgiving.”

This article is being published under an arrangement between The Boston Globe and the Gordon College News Service.

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