After their meal was blessed Thursday, a roomful of community members whose lives have been disrupted by Hurricane Sandy bowed their heads and followed Deacon John Sadowski in prayer of thanks in the cafeteria of Stony Point's Immaculate Conception Church.
"Almighty God, despite the situation in this area, despite the suffering, despite the pain, we thank you for this opportunity to come together in the spirit of fellowship and the spirit of community, the spirit of love for each other, and the spirit of Thanksgiving," Sadowski said. "We are thankful for the gifts that we have."
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Six large turkeys, ham, and tray after tray of creamed corn, vegetables, sweet and mashed potatoes, and desserts -- all homemade and donated by local residents -- were brought in to feed the more than 75 people who had signed up for the event.
The mood was upbeat. A liturgical guitarist practiced songs in a classroom, while children roamed the hallways in search of crafts workshops.
Tom Ossa peeked through the window of what was once his kindergarten classroom, just footsteps from the cafeteria. Now president of the North Rockland Business Alliance, Ossa saidthe group "decided to go into outreach mode, with regard to benefits, donations and fundraisers." Volunteers Maribel Morgese and Taryn Herbert contacted the alliance about putting together the Thanksgiving meal after Morgese's 13-year-old daughter, Emily Morgese, came up with the idea.
Emily met Herbert's 10-year-old daughter, Ryleigh, on Thanksgiving eve and offered help wherever it was needed at the church.
"One girl came up to me and said, 'You guys put a smile on my face for the first time (since Sandy),'" Emily said. "It made me feel really good inside. I thought, maybe this is what Thanksgiving is really about, not just having fun at home. Maybe there are other people out there and you don't know what they're going through."
Kevin Bates and Kiya Pilcher, Stony Point residents who have been unable to return home and are among the 60 or so adults and 40 children staying at the Stony Point Center, expressed gratitude for the community's support while seated at a cafeteria table.
"It means a lot," said Bates, a computer operator. "The food's just like home."
"The community's been great throughout this whole ordeal," added Pilcher, a stay-at-home mother of three, who also raved about a barbecue the local Lions Club held for hurricane victims. "It's great not to worry about (Thanksgiving). The kids are used to having Thanksgiving (at home). What would it be without the community doing this for us today?"
While enjoying a slice of pie at the table, Pilcher's 11-year-old son Rian, a fifth-grader at Farley Elementary School, said he missed being able to celebrate Thanksgiving at home but "It makes you feel good that there are people who care."
Meanwhile, he said, he is making the best of his situation at the shelter. "It's fun at the shelter, because my friends are there, who I know from school," he said.
Helping in the effort Thursday was fellow Stony Point resident Lionel Mathis, who is also organizing a bowling fundraiser for Sandy victims from 9 p.m. to midnight Saturday at Hi-Tor Lanes in West Haverstraw.
He said he felt a sense of duty to help others after his property emerged unscathed, aside from a power outage that lasted a week and a half. "I can't just sit around and not do anything," he said.