It's a day to give thanks, cherish family and enjoy a hot, juicy meal.
That was how Thanksgiving was described Thursday by some of the more than 150 people from various ethnicities and cultures attending the Faith Mission Thanksgiving luncheon in the Pope Francis Hospital Center on DePaul Street in Elmont.
"This is the time of year when we come together, thank God and spend time with family, but these are people who don't have a social network," said Mary Joesten, the all-volunteer nonprofit organization's director. "It gives them the opportunity to celebrate and meet other people."
More than 15 turkeys and several hundred pounds of stuffing, candy yams, cranberry sauce, string beans, green salads, bread, apple cider, coffee, assorted cakes and pies were served at the event, and clothing and toys were also available.
"I want it to be like they're in a restaurant or a country club," said Joesten, a retired insurance broker from Oceanside, adding they were more than 40 volunteers from five different churches and community groups serving the homeless, veterans, seniors, immigrants and unemployed individuals. "It is not a breadline where people stand outside."
Among those enjoying a meal at the luncheon was Amy Helefe, 38, of Hempstead, who said she was homeless and living in shelters for more than two years before getting a studio apartment in August. She credited Joesten for helping her our through tough times.
"This is more family to me than my genetic family," Helefe said. "That's why it was important to be here. Mary cares about people."
Despite being thousands of miles from his native Mexico, Luis Alberto Figueroa said he is grateful for being able to provide for his family and the possibility to work in the United States.
"We can't be with our families, but my colleagues are as if they were my family," Figueroa, 39, said in Spanish as he was surrounded by eight other men who also work as grooms at the Belmont Park racetrack.
"I am very thankful for being here and working and helping out my family," Figueroa said. "I feel great because of the opportunity this country has given us and I thank God."
For Dennis Eberhart, 64, of Freeport, a retired FDNY lieutenant, Thanksgiving is about giving back to the community.
"It's rewarding," said Eberhart, who helped cook. "I can help people who don't have what I have. You can't put a monetary value on it."