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'They just need love': Thanksgiving Day volunteers prepare meals for those in need

Volunteers gathered in Lindenhurst Thursday morning to help put

Volunteers gathered in Lindenhurst Thursday morning to help put together meals for hundreds of families.  Credit: Newsday / Raychel Brightman

Spending a few hours to volunteer at a food drive has become a Thanksgiving tradition for Sam-Karis Oghenekome to live up to the holiday spirit.

"It's an opportunity to give back to the community and show [my] thanks," said Oghenekome, 21, who emigrated from Nigeria in 2017. "I'm grateful that I am living in this country."

Oghenekome, a SUNY New Paltz college student of Bay Shore, said he also enjoyed seeing the other volunteers who spent the better part of their Thanksgiving morning in Lindenhurst to put a meal together for hundreds of families.

The operation, now in its 26th year, grew from sending 35 meals to a Farmingdale motel on Thanksgiving to delivering about 2,000 packages of donated food to homes and shelters from Brooklyn to Riverhead, said Roy Kirton, former pastor of the now-defunct Circle of Love Ministry in Amityville, who started the drive.

"There's so many hurting people. And they just need love," said Kirton, 70, who moved to Cary, North Carolina, in February and returned to Long Island this week for the drive. "Food is a medium that can show love."

Inside the hall of American Legion Post 1120, dozens of volunteers — retired nurses, university students, churchgoers and others — buzzed around makeshift prep stations. Some scooped yams, green beans and ziti into takeout boxes. Others carved turkeys and sliced sweet potato pies.

Amy Muraglio, a member of the American Legion post that let the operation use their hall for free, made three trays of mashed potatoes and one tray of stuffing. Muraglio said she felt compelled to come volunteer as well.

"I couldn't live with myself if I didn't," said Muraglio, 53, of West Islip. "I have to. They're feeding so many people."

As the country enters a second holiday season still mired in a pandemic, organizers and volunteers said they’ve reflected on what gratitude meant this year.

"With COVID, it's giving us the opportunity to realize that tomorrow isn't promised and that we are grateful to still be alive," said Frances Pierre, 57, of Deer Park. "We want to do something beneficial that's not just for us but for others."

Pierre, commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Social Services, knew about the drive through her friend Renee Joshua-Porter, the operation’s coordinator.

Joshua-Porter, 55, of Wheatley Heights, noted Long Island's food insecurity that worsened during the pandemic, which made the drive even more needed than usual.

"The pandemic has brought a wave of fear and a wave of discouragement," she said. "That's an added component when you're dealing with hunger. So this year is different. So we need more. We need more hope. We need more love."

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