Thanksgiving elicits thoughts of gratitude. For many, it’s a time to be thankful for the bounty. But for others, it can be a time of grief, because there is too little — or nothing at all — to put on the table.
Hunger affects 300,000 — or 1 in 10 — people on Long Island, including working families, senior citizens, veterans and children, according to Randi Shubin Dresner, president and CEO of Island Harvest Food Bank in Bethpage.
“Through our work, we found that hunger impacts working Long Islanders at shocking levels. Working families are struggling to make ends meet and finding it difficult to juggle food bills and other obligations such as child care, utility and transportation costs, and medical bills, to name a few,” Dresner said.
The high cost of living on Long Island has done little to reduce the number of people accessing the food pantries, soup kitchens and other feeding programs served by Island Harvest Food Bank.
“We estimate that approximately 70,000 people on Long Island are receiving supplemental food support from these sites each week. The Economic Policy Institute estimates a family of two adults and two children in the Nassau and Suffolk metro area would need to earn a combined $139,545 per year (or $11,629 per month) to live comfortably on Long Island,” she said.
It's not surprising then, that according to the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless, there were 3,860 homeless people on the Island last year. This year there are 3,960, and more than half are children.
Yet, this Thanksgiving, if religious, civic and community groups have their way, no one will go hungry on Long Island. If you or someone you know needs a place to call home on Thanksgiving, start with checking out local food pantries. A great resource is Long Island Cares' website, licares.org. Click on "Find Help," then "Food Locator" for a list of local pantries, along with hours of operation and contact information. (See box for more resources.) If you can contribute to others’ Thanksgiving meals, you can also find November food drive events, including Adopt-a-Family, at licares.org.
Kristine Kossegi Lehn, chief network officer of Long Island Cares Inc. — The Harry Chapin Food Bank in Hauppauge, explained how people can participate to help the organization reach its goal of feeding 5,000 families. What’s needed? According to Kossegi Lehn: Canned fruit, pumpkin filling, cranberry sauce, vegetables, frozen turkeys, bags of stuffing, cake or cookie mixes, boxes of mashed potato mix, jar, packet or canned gravy. (These things can be dropped off by Nov. 20 at their offices; see box.)
With so much happening on Long Island to meet needs, here are places where you can celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday with a complimentary meal.
Friends Kitchen, Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Rocky Point
At Trinity, they not only believe in feeding the soul, but the body. The church has a food pantry, and every Thursday at 5 p.m. a meal is served. It’s not surprising that for the past 30 years they have served a free Thanksgiving dinner — this year, that meal is served at 1 p.m. Nov. 28.
Carol Moor founded Friends Kitchen and is vice president of the church. She said feeding is an essential part of the church’s culture. She described the weekly dinners as part spiritual practice. “Before the meal, once volunteers have arrived, we hold hands, say a prayer and have a pep talk to go out and serve,” Moor said.
Friends Kitchen is also big on birthdays. “We find out if it’s someone’s birthday. We have a cake and candles. It means a lot to people; their eyes light up. One lady turned 100 and she came to our weekly dinner to have dinner with us,” Moor said, acknowledging that such special moments are also encouraging for those who are lifting a helping hand.
For Thanksgiving, Trinity taps the larger community for volunteers, getting Girls Scouts to make pies and help set the tables. “We’ll get volunteers from Mount Sinai to Wading River,” Moor said.
Trinity, which has about 700 members, gets food from Long Island Cares and uses food from its own pantry, which receives much of its funding from an annual walk-a-thon that raises money for the soup kitchen; this year’s May event raised $4,000. “We still need monetary donations,” Moor said.
The Thanksgiving dinner has become a staple in the community. “People look forward to it. A lot of people have come several times,” she said.
Moor said they are expecting 60 this year, but the number could be greater. “Things are getting a little worse. We see a broad range of the population, families with children coming to weekly dinners,” she said. (Welcome Friends Soup Kitchen of the Greater Port Jefferson Area isn’t doing a Thanksgiving meal, but the group is renting a van to get people to Trinity for Thanksgiving.)
The Friends Kitchen also offers arts and crafts on Thursdays for families bringing kids, helping to keep the children entertained before dinner. She also sees single adults, veterans with different types of disabilities, those who are unemployed, people with physical and emotional challenges, and senior citizens who are either lonely or struggling financially.
Moor predicts the church will be feeding people on Thanksgiving and weekly Thursday for the next 30 years and beyond.
“One week there was a little 5-year-old boy who so enjoyed the roast pork we had that day. He came up to me and said, ‘Miss Carol, that was the best food I ever ate.’ People are grateful. It makes you feel good to see how happy people are to be there and enjoy the meal.”
Circle of Love Ministry Food Pantry, Bethesda Seventh Day Adventist Church, Amityville
Some traditions are worth keeping. For the past 25 years, in a variety of venues, Pastor Roy Kirton has galvanized efforts to offer free Thanksgiving meals to the community. What’s his inspiration? “My desire to reach the disenfranchised. There is a great need. Many families are just a few paychecks from being homeless,” Kirton said.
That need continues to grow. “Wages have been stagnant, people on Long Island need help,” he said,
Kirton is rallying the troops, not just in his congregation, but in various churches and civic groups that are coming together to serve an expected 2,000 dinners this Thanksgiving Day between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Last year they served 1,600.
Kirton is grateful for the donors, especially those who faithfully contribute money, items and time — year after year. There is still time to chip in, whether with cash, volunteering time or dropping off food.
Food drives have helped bring in the ingredients for the meal — turkey, macaroni and cheese, mixed vegetables, string beans, cranberry sauce, rolls and dessert. But more is needed (see box).
Kirton is big on reaching out to the community: It’s what he believes is the right thing to do and following the lead of Christ. Bethesda also has an aftercare program for those who were formerly incarcerated. And the church is pushing the community to eat better with lectures, healthy cooking demonstrations and more.
It’s all part of the church’s mission, Kirton said, "To worship the Lord, serve our community. And to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ and his second coming by the power of the Holy Spirit."
Kirton said he’s looking forward to this year’s dinner. “It’s always rewarding," he said. “We are loving the hell out of our neighbors.”
St. Frances de Chantal Church, Wantagh
For more than 30 years St. Frances de Chantal Church has opened its doors on Thanksgiving Day for dinner. The event has tripled in size since the beginning. This year St. Frances expects to serve about 100 people, according to Ele Ruth Melendez, director of the Parish Social Ministry.
“The parishioners of St. Frances are very generous. We have our dinner catered and our members also provide homemade desserts. We have live music provided by our talented Doreen McDonald,” Melendez said.
In addition to the Thanksgiving dinner, served at 1 p.m., various committees at the church run food drives, and parishioners bring food to be used for Thanksgiving baskets of food that will be delivered to those in need.
“We decorate boxes and fill them with the typical Thanksgiving meal items. These boxes are given to our clients and many of our less fortunate neighbors in Nassau and Suffolk counties,” Melendez said.
Despite all the collecting, Melendez said the church still needs gravy, stuffing, canned pineapple, canned yams, turkeys or turkey coupons, gift cards to supermarkets — any donations — she said. In addition, to the Thanksgiving meal boxes, they provide food for breakfast and lunch on Thanksgiving along with paper goods.
The Thanksgiving box program and dinner have been quite successful and are a point of pride for St. Frances. Many of the 4,000 registered parishioners find a way to contribute. The Young Vincentians — young members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul — serve and welcome each visitor.
Melendez talks about the importance of what they do. “We find that there is a great need for a free Thanksgiving dinner,” she said. “Whether it is a homebound senior who we will deliver to, someone who is experiencing financial or personal difficulties, or a person who just wants to experience the holiday with other members of their community.”
Between the baskets and the dinner, Thanksgiving is a big undertaking — but so worth it. “The joy on people’s faces, the feeling of belonging, is why it is important to continue year after year,” Melendez said.
And the church’s community outreach isn’t limited to Thanksgiving. St. Frances has an angel tree program in place for Christmas that provides gifts for those who are less fortunate. In addition, all year-round there are a food pantry, support groups, thrift shop and advocacy for those in need.
“We hope to give those attending a feeling of belonging, and a good meal,” Melendez said.
If you are in need — or can give
Circle of Love Ministry Food Pantry, Bethesda Seventh Day Adventist Church: Serving from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 28 at 76 Parkway Ave. To donate food, time or money, call 631-379-1327 or email email@example.com.
Nourish Babylon: Serving at 5 p.m. Nov. 25 at Christ Episcopal Church, 12 Prospect St.; 631-661-5757.
Serving Our Savior Soup Kitchen: Serving at 5:45 p.m. Nov. 22 at First Presbyterian Church of Babylon, 79 E. Main St. 631-587-5838, ext. 304.
St. Patrick’s Hospitality Soup Kitchen: Serving 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Nov. 29 at St. Patrick’s Outreach, 6 Fifth Ave.; 631-665-4917.
Hospitality Too Soup Kitchen: Serving at 11 a.m. Nov. 23 at St. Anne’s Church, 88 Second Ave.; 631-482-8538.
Holy Church of Christ Soup Kitchen: Serving 2 to 3 p.m. Nov. 24 at 41 Sage St.
Hope Missionary Baptist Church: Serving at noon Nov. 28 at 100 Lemon St.
Patchogue Neighbor's INN 2: Serving at 6 p.m. Nov. 26 at 510 Narragansett Ave.; 516-987-9459.
Faith Mission Soup Kitchen: Serving at 11:30 a.m. Nov. 23 at Pope Francis Hospitality Center, 1510 DePaul St. RSVP to 516-992-5063.
Island Harvest Food Bank: To donate a turkey, trimmings or funds, call 631-873-4775 or visit islandharvest.org. To find food throughout its network of agencies, visit islandharvest.org and go to the dropdown menu "Find Help." For those who are interested in learning more SNAP (food stamps), call 631-873-4775 or visit the website.
Long Island Cares Inc. — The Harry Chapin Food Bank in Hauppauge: To find food near you, visit licares.org (click on “Find Help,” then “Food Locator,” for pantries and Thanksgiving meals); 661-582-3663. You can donate food for Thanksgiving by Nov. 20 between 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Monday to Friday at 10 Davids Dr., Hauppauge. To arrange for large-donation pickup, contact Billy Gonyou at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ladles of Hope: Serving at 11 a.m. Nov. 30 at 65 Atlantic Ave.; 516-378-0665.
Mary Brennan INN: Serving from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 28 at 100 Madison Ave.; 516-486-6243.
Central Church: Serving at 1 p.m. Nov. 28 at 240 Main St.; RSVP by Nov. 27 at 631-421-3663.
Loaves & Fishes of United Methodist Church of Lake Ronkonkoma: Serving at 4:45 p.m. Nov. 26 at 792 Hawkins Ave.
Long Beach Soup Kitchen: Serving at 11:45 Nov. 28 at 140 W. Pine St.; 516-897-2763.
Patchogue Neighbor's INN: Serving at noon on Nov. 25 at 31 Rider Ave.
Patchogue Neighbor's INN 3: Serving at 5 p.m. Nov. 23 at 224 S. Ocean Ave. (rear entrance).
PORT JEFFERSON STATION
St. Gerard Majella Stewardship: Serving 5:30 to 6 p.m. Nov. 21 at St. Gerard Majella, 300 Terryville Rd.; 631-473-2900.
Friends Kitchen, Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church: Serving at 1 p.m. Nov. 28 at 716 Rte. 25A; for information about taking a bus to Rocky Point from Port Jefferson, call 631-744-9355; food pantry open 10 a.m. to noon Tuesdays and at 4:30 p.m. Thursday; for information about donating, visit thefishchurch.com.
Sharing A Meal: Serving 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Nov. 27 at Sayville Congregational United Church, Fellowship Hall, 131 Middle Rd.; 631-793-5226.
Our Daily Bread: Serving at 2 p.m. Nov. 24 at St. James Church, 429 Rte. 25A; 631-941-4141.
St. Frances de Chantal Church: Serving Thanksgiving dinner at 1 p.m. Nov. 28 at 1309 Wantagh Ave. For information about needed donations, visit saintjanefrances.org.
First Baptist Church Soup Kitchen: Serving from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 28 at 212 Garden St.
Mercy Soup Kitchen: Serving at noon Nov. 28 at 17 S. 17th St.; 631-643-5117.
Sources: Long Island Cares, Sheryl Nance-Nash and Newsday Staff
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the date and telephone number for the Thanksgiving meal scheduled to be served at Sayville Congregational United Church.