Free hot Thanksgiving meals more important than ever in 2020

Local News

LOWER EAST SIDE, Manhattan — Food insecurity is a 365 day problem, but it’s especially difficult in the holiday season, where food is often the center of our traditions and celebrations.

And on this Thanksgiving, because of the pandemic, the need is so great for so many.

“Because I have donated to this organization in the past, it’s come full circle when I am now in my time of need,” one recipient of a hot, free meal, who didn’t want to make her name public, told PIX11 News.

Pre-pandemic, this Manhattan resident said she happily donated to the Bowery Mission on the Lower East Side to help serve others in need.

And this year for the first time ever, because of COVID-19, she, like so many others, was on the receiving end of the Bowery Mission’s generosity.

With an estimated 50 million adults and 17 million children nationwide experiencing food insecurity, the Bowery Mission has been serving a new constituency since mid-March.

“We had people on the line who have never been on the Bowery Mission line before,” Janes Winans, CEO of Bowery Mission, told PIX11 News. “They just have been laid off or they’ve been furloughed. They’re now relying on emergency food, joining with others on the line who don’t have a home.”

This is the 141st Bowery Mission Thanksgiving day feast, and this one is like no other.

New Yorkers in need were greeted by New Yorkers happy to help at the Bowery Mission Thursday.

Even with increased demand, there were 400 fewer volunteers in order to allow for social distancing. Plus, there was no indoor dining in the chapel; instead, everyone was masked and gloved preparing boxed meals to-go to take home, or to outdoor tents on Rivington Street.

“It’s just a magnificent feeling. I thank everyone. A team effort. A blessed day,” Bowery Mission chef Ronald Neal told PIX11 News.

At the largest pandemic relief organization in the world, the Salvation Army was also serving boxed lunches to go, with some recipients preferring to eat on the Salvation Army headquarters steps on West 14th Street.

Everyone got a gift bag as well, with a hat, scarf, masks and hand sanitizers.

“It started in March, when we started feeding 100 people a day, then 200, then 300,” Major Kevin Stoops, the general secretary of the Salvation Army, told PIX11 News. “It’s important that we’re out here serving people in need,” he added.

During these hard times, both organizations have seen an increase in volunteers, too. Why?

“I am obviously here to help other people who need food, the most basic thing,” Sonni Amun, a Bowery admission volunteer, told PIX11 News. “But I also love being around other people who want to volunteer and help, instead of run away from something that’s really hard.”

And one recipient of the Salvation Army’s generosity, Robert Santiago, summed it all up with an exuberant: “Happy Thanksgiving to all!”

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