A warm meal, a helping hand
Story and photos by Gregg McQueen
This Thanksgiving season will be a little brighter for some area residents, thanks to efforts from the Food Bank for New York City (Food Bank), which prepared “Thanksgiving to-go” meals to feed the hungry in some of the city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods.
This past Sun., Nov. 24th, renowned chefs Mario Batali and David Burke joined volunteers at the Food Bank’s Community Kitchen on 116th Street in Harlem to cook and pack 1,000 ready-to-eat meals.
Other celebrities dropped by throughout the day to lend a hand, including Food Network personality Sunny Anderson, actor Kevin Bacon, musician Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and model Selita Ebanks.
The packaged meals were distributed the following day to recipients in the Bronx in dire need of food assistance, including seniors and children.
Meals were delivered to East Concourse Senior Center on East Tremont Avenue, PS 18X School on Morris Avenue, Moore Senior Center on Jackson Avenue and Morris Innovative Senior Center on East 181st Street, among other locations.
At the Community Kitchen, volunteers sliced and diced ingredients and also baked 2,000 chickens, used in place of turkeys due to faster cooking time, which allowed more meals to be prepared. Also included with the meals were traditional Thanksgiving trimmings like stuffing and cranberry sauce.
“Anytime we can help people in need, it feels great,” said Batali, who came with his wife and children to help in the kitchen. “It’s important that we do what we can.”
Burke, who is active in charity work, had spent the previous day distributing food at the New Jersey shore, in areas affected by Hurricane Sandy.
“It’s in a chef’s nature to be hospitable,” he said.
“Especially around this time of year, you realize how much it means to help others.”
Though the focus on this day was providing some relief during Thanksgiving, Food Bank’s Harlem site functions year-round as a full soup kitchen, offering dinner service Mondays through Fridays to those who need hot meals.
“We’re feeding more than 600 people on each of those days,” said Daryl Foriest, director of food distribution for the Community Kitchen.
Lines for the soup kitchen have grown noticeably longer since the November 1 government cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. It is expected that the cuts will result in nearly two million New Yorkers having less money for food each month.
“You have families who make decisions every day on whether to pay rent, get medication, or put food on the table,” said Foriest.
“If we can eliminate one of those burdens, I think it will be a more festive and enjoyable holiday for them.”
Batali added, “Hunger is the the most pathetic of human conditions, especially in this country, which is the richest of all.”
The Community Kitchen also runs a pantry service that allows low-income New Yorkers to select fresh produce and packaged food items themselves in a supermarket-style setting.
In addition to food services, the site offers visitors help with financial planning, tax preparation and nutrition education.
“If someone comes in for a meal, we’re going to find out if there’s something else we can do for them,” explained Foriest. “That way when people leave here, they can look forward to tomorrow.”
Foriest surveyed the bustling scene in the kitchen and smiled.
“When you see these amazing volunteers and celebrities coming together to help those less fortunate, I think that’s what represents Thanksgiving ― the spirit of giving back.”
To find out more about the Food Bank for New York City and its programs, please visit Foodbanknyc.org or call 212.566.7855.
The Food Bank’s Community Kitchen and Food Pantry is located at 252 West 116 Street near Eighth Avenue. The soup kitchen is open for dinner Monday through Friday from 4 p.m. – 6 p.m.