This story was reported and written by John Asbury, Matthew Chayes and Bart Jones.
Lianna Dellorco was running down the Long Beach boardwalk this week with her brother, Dominic, 9, and sister, Sophia, 5, on a sunny visit to Long Island for Thanksgiving.
“I’m thankful for my family,” said Lianna, 7, of Hopkinton, Mass.
It was the first time in two years the extended family — the kids, grandma, uncle — had been all together. “We’re happy to be with family for the holidays because we haven’t had time to spend with them,” said their father, Vincent Dellorco, during the visit to his family in Island Park. “COVID is kind of behind us, and it’s nice to close it out the right way.”
Thanksgiving 2022 comes at a time when most of Long Island is vaccinated against COVID-19 and the threat of the pandemic has largely crested. For the first time in two years, there is a return to normalcy of sorts and Long Islanders said they are thankful for that, their families, their health, their homes and many other things.
Charles Richardson, 58, a manager at a 7-Eleven, said he was feeling great as the holiday approached. He has so many invitations for Thanksgiving dinner he decided to work to avoid offending anyone.
But he’s glad people are gathering after so much separation and isolation.
“I think it is good for families to get together,” he said. “Last year you had to do the virtual Thanksgiving” in many cases.
Ally Harris, 20, of Holtsville, said she’s looking forward to Thanksgiving dinner with an extended family of about 20.
“I feel like it’s the first normal Thanksgiving in three years,” she said. “I’m just excited to see my family.”
Her college career was interrupted in March 2020 when the pandemic hit in her freshman year at SUNY Oneonta. Classes went virtual; she didn’t like it.
“It was kind of hard learning by myself,” she said.
What Americans celebrate as Thanksgiving dates to autumn 1621, when the early settlers of Plymouth Colony, the Pilgrims, convened a three-day feast to mark a bountiful harvest. That commemoration became a national holiday on Oct. 3, 1863, proclaimed by President Abraham Lincoln as a day of Thanksgiving.
About 91% of consumers say they’re planning to celebrate Thanksgiving, according to a recent NielsenIQ survey, which found that most (83%) are staying at home (59%) or going somewhere local (24%), within 50 miles of their homes.
Rosa Moreira, 33, a housewife from Central Islip, said she’s feeling good as the holiday approaches; she and her family will celebrate Thanksgiving even though she is an immigrant from El Salvador.
One difference: there will be no turkey. Instead they will have chicken, steak and “pupusas,” the Salvadoran national dish of cornbread stuffed with cheese or meat.
“In my house we are doing well,” she said in Spanish. “I have my family, my kids.” COVID-19 was a worry, she said, but the situation seems to be improving.
Gelson Ruis, 38, of Bay Shore, an immigrant from Honduras, said: “I feel good. I have work, and food on the table.”
The pandemic was difficult — “We lost a lot of people” — but seems to be tapering off, he said.
He has a girlfriend from Nicaragua, and is hoping to marry and start a family, he said.
Carol Kirschner, 75, of Selden, said she was busy getting ready to help oversee the Thanksgiving dinner the United Methodist Church of Patchogue will offer to the needy and anyone else who would like to join.
The annual ritual stopped in 2020 with the pandemic, but this year it’ll be back in full swing, she said.
“We are grateful we can do it again,” said Kirschner, a retired home economics teacher at Centereach High School. “It was part of our mission with the church to do this — to take care of our neighborhood.”
Janice Buckley, 77, of Ridge, said she got the shock of her life this year when she was able to reunite with the son she gave up for adoption a half-century ago.
One of her daughters helped track him down using DNA and the Internet, she said.
“I’m happy,” the retired home health care aide said. “I’m always happy.”
She also said she was grateful she does not have COVID-19 — unlike some of her neighbors.
At the Freeport Armory this week, needy veterans got clothing and food before Thanksgiving.
The village, along with charities including Long Island Cares; the East Northport-based General Needs, which helps homeless veterans; and the Patriot Guard Riders worked to deliver nearly 400 turkeys and care packages, including winter coats and boots, as part of the annual Stand Down event for the veterans and their families, in a drive-up line.
Luigi Pisano, 48, of Huntington, said for 20 years he didn’t identify as a veteran of his two years in the U.S. Army and two years in the Army Reserves.
But he said when times got tough, he was grateful for the support.
“I’m thankful for a happy, loving wife and everything that comes with it and our brand-new apartment,” he said. “It's been tough since the pandemic and we’re finally breaking out of the stagnation and state of depression. I know a lot of veterans need help and didn't know it was available.”
As he drove away, he had a bag of hidden surprises waiting in his trunk for the winter.
“This helps for Thanksgiving with a turkey and saves a lot of money on winter gear like coats and jackets,” Pisano said.
Tracey Matthews, 60, also of West Hempstead, said she is grateful for her health and her family after her husband died of COVID-19. She said she was also a victim of fraud this year.
“I’m thankful for life. COVID has been a struggle, and I still have my health and my grandchildren and my daughters. We lost my husband at the beginning of COVID and moved forward.”
Matthews started in the Coast Guard and served in the Army for 32 years, in Kuwait, Germany and Iraq. She came Tuesday for donations for the holidays.
“It just helps a little and helps money stretch for you. This year has been a real struggle,” she said. “I'm thankful I still have my health. I had COVID and I've got this downtime to grow stronger with Christ.”