WINDSOR TERRACE — With many people out of work and short of money due to the COVID-19 pandemic, families are struggling to put together Thanksgiving meals. But religious organizations and secular groups are working overtime to supply families with turkeys and other dishes to make the holiday a happy one despite the economic uncertainty.
Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens handed out 850 turkeys and food boxes to local residents outside St. Francis of Assisi-St. Blaise Parish, Crown Heights on Nov. 17 as part of a giveaway co-sponsored by State Senator Zellnor Myrie and Assemblywoman Diana Richardson. Residents were also given $25 gift cards.
CCBQ planned to distribute another 700 turkeys on Nov. 20. Officials said the need is especially acute this year.
“Many of our food pantries in our 20 food pantry network have seen a 1000 percent increase in need of food since March,” said Michael Jude, fund manager for CCBQ. “Prior to the pandemic, Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens’ food pantries served an average of just under 14,000 people each month. The agency’s food pantries now serve nearly 35,000 people per month.”
The unemployment rate in New York City was 13.2 percent in October, far above the national rate of 6.9 percent.
Over at the St. John’s Bread & Life program in Bedford-Stuyvesant, everyone is busy. “We expect to serve between 700 and 800 meals this year,” said Sister Caroline Tweedy R.S.M., the program’s executive director. “It’s not going to be a sit-down meal. We’re preparing grab-and-go bags for people. We have a pass-through window. We’re giving people a full meal in the bag — meat, vegetables, the works.”
St. John’s Bread & Life operates a food pantry throughout the year and provides social services to people in need. Sister Caroline said she isn’t surprised by the large numbers of people seeking assistance with Thanksgiving food.
“This has been happening ever since the pandemic hit,” she said, adding that between July 1 and Sept. 30, St. John’s distributed 1.5 million pounds of food.
Brother Tom Barton, O.S.F., the interim executive director of Christian Help in Park Slope (CHIPS), which operates a soup kitchen and a shelter for homeless women and their infants, said they are preparing 500 meals for this Thanksgiving compared to 350 last year.
“We’re overwhelmed with requests for help. We have 40 percent more people coming to us this year than last year,” said Tom Neve, executive director of Reaching-Out Community Services, a food pantry in Bensonhurst. “The last eight months have been hard.”
Reaching-Out will hold its annual Operation Gobbler Giving, a turkey distribution to families in need, on Nov. 23. Neve said he expects to distribute 700 turkeys that day.
“But there are hundreds more people who need help getting a Thanksgiving meal on the table. We’re doing the best we can but we don’t have the money to help everyone,” Neve said.
Reaching-Out relies largely on donations to operate its pantry. “We got a big donation from the Verrazano Rotary Club,” Neve said. “Without them, I don’t know what we would have done.”