Geneva parish provides Thanksgiving meals to those in need - Catholic Courier
A woman places a can in a box.

Abby Gravitte packs a Thanksgiving box with donated goods Nov. 19 at Our Lady of Peace Parish Center in Geneva. (Courier photo by Jeff Witherow)

Geneva parish provides Thanksgiving meals to those in need

More than 200 families in the Geneva area got a boost in November when they received boxes filled with all the fixings for Thanksgiving meals, courtesy of Our Lady of Peace Parish’s Thanksgiving Dinners program.

Although the program has been making the holiday brighter for local families for more than 30 years, the need for food assistance in the community is especially high this year, remarked Joan Leonard, social-ministry coordinator at Our Lady of Peace. Leonard is responsible for coordinating the Thanksgiving Dinners program as well as helping people who come to the parish seeking emergency assistance.

A surprising number of people have turned to the parish for such help in recent months, said Leonard, who took on the role of social-ministry coordinator in July after the retirement of her long-serving predecessor, Marie Milligan.

“The walk-ins have been terrifically high. Since July 5, I have 130 pages of client notes,” she told the Catholic Courier in early November. “I really got my baptism by fire. There’s such a huge need.”

Parish’s Thanksgiving Dinner program aims to help local people in need

Leonard’s first step was to learn more about the need in the community. A number of local agencies register their clients for Our Lady of Peace’s Thanksgiving Dinners program, so Leonard contacted those agencies to learn more about what they are seeing and what kinds of needs their clients have. The Boys and Girls Club, Geneva Head Start and Child and Family Resources Inc. are among the agencies that help clients access the Thanksgiving dinners, and both St. Francis-St. Stephen School and the local public schools help connect families in need to the program, Leonard said.

A number of migrant farmworkers around the Geneva area and in Seneca Castle, Stanley and Clifton Springs also were signed up for the Thanksgiving Dinners program, she said.

“That was an interesting thought for me, that we actually feed those who feed us,” she remarked.

Program provides recipients with turkey and the fixings for a Thanksgiving dinner

Each family signed up for the program receives a box of food containing vegetables — such as corn, green beans, peas, carrots and yams — as well as cranberry sauce, gravy, potatoes, onions, apples, stuffing and a turkey. Families of four or less receive a 12-pound turkey, and families of five or more receive a turkey that weighs 14 to 16 pounds as well as additional bags of some items, such as potatoes and stuffing.

“For our Hispanic community, we’ve also been collecting black, red and white beans and rice. They also get stuffing, but sometimes the Hispanic community might not prefer stuffing. There are some families who are newly arrived, and it’s hard on their digestive system, so we try to match what they’ve recently been eating,” Leonard explained.

Since Thanksgiving may be a new experience for some of the families who’ve recently arrived in the United States, Leonard also provides a brief lesson on how to cook a turkey.

Community pitches in to donate food and funds, pack and deliver boxes

The potatoes, apples and onions included in the dinners were donated by local farms, and parishioners have been donating boxed and canned items for the dinners for months, Leonard said. The students at St. Francis-St. Stephen School and in the parish’s faith-formation program have been collecting nonperishable food items, as have local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and many parishioners have made monetary donations to defray the cost of the turkeys and any other food that must be purchased, she said.

“It’s going to be $4,600 or more for the turkeys alone,” Leonard said. “I’m just blown away by the generosity of people with their food donations, their financial donations in large and small amounts. Some people will give me a case of veggies. Some people will give me a can. We’re collecting everything.”

In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, Deacon Robert Cyrana and the parish’s Men of Faith group collected cardboard boxes donated by a local liquor store. Later they bagged the apples, onions and potatoes and helped sort and box the dinners, along with local Scouts and teens. Others volunteered to deliver the dinners.

The Thanksgiving meals not only help recipients celebrate the holiday, but they also are nutritious, remarked Sarah Scorsone, Healthy Families Ontario and Yates program and site coordinator for Child and Family Resources Inc.

“Families who receive the food distribution are always very grateful for the provision of food, and share with us their plans for preparing their Thanksgiving feasts,” Scorsone said.

Volunteers also are grateful to be involved with the program, Leonard said.

“It’s definitely a community builder. You’re recognizing your blessings by sharing your blessings with others,” she said.

Tags: Faith in Action, Ontario County News
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