ELIZABETH, NJ — At Elizabeth’s St. Joseph’s Social Service center, Thanksgiving is truly about giving.
On Monday, St. Joseph’s made the holidays a little brighter for many local families, as volunteers gathered at the center to help hand out turkeys and all the trimmings for families in need in the area.
More than 800 turkeys and 1,000 bags of food were distributed at St. Joseph’s headquarters, located on Division Street in Elizabeth.
The initiative has been held at the center since it opened in 1986.
More than 800 families signed up this year, and donations of food were sent to St. Joseph’s from all over Union County.
Volunteers of all ages gathered at the center to sort the food into 21 different categories, ranging from soup to pasta and vegetables to desserts.
Sister Jacinta Fernandes, of St. Joseph’s, told LocalSource that the center responds to the needs of the low-income and homeless populations of the greater Elizabeth area. Services offered throughout the year include a food pantry, soup kitchen, sandwich program, daily bread distribution, health services, job program, counseling and case management. “For Thanksgiving, we distribute approximately 800 bags of food and turkeys,” Fernandes told LocalSource. “At Christmas time, we distribute gifts to more than 2,000 people.”
Elizabethtown Gas and its employees have been involved in the annual event to help provide Thanksgiving meals to these local families since the late ’80s, according to Tina Earley, manager of government and community affairs for Elizabethtown Gas. “Like many of our community partnerships, we first got involved with St. Joseph Social Service Center through the work of our employees,” Earley told LocalSource in an email. “Since that time, we’ve continued our support of St. Joseph, which is a testament to our employees’ dedication to giving back to the communities where we live and work. Our employees look forward to this experience each year, and some of our retired employees even come back to lend a helping hand.”
According to Earley, Elizabethtown Gas holds a food drive to collect donations for the event. Each year, “our company holds a food drive and our employees generously donate items that make up the trimmings for the Thanksgiving event,” Earley said. “On the day of the event, we help sort food into different categories.
Once the food is sorted, each volunteer goes “shopping” to fill their bags with all of the ingredients for a Thanksgiving feast. It’s busy, but fun,” she said of the event at St. Joseph’s.
Fernandes said that donations to St. Joseph’s come from all over. “Donations come in from churches, businesses and individuals,” Fernandez said. “On the Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving, a few hundred volunteers come from churches and businesses to help sort and pack the donations of food that we have received.”
According to Fernandes, clients signed up for the program in September and came to receive the turkeys and food bags Monday and Tuesday. Those who did not sign up could still stop by on Wednesday morning to see if there were extra turkeys and food bags still available.
Fernandes said volunteers come from all over to help out with the initiative. “The volunteers come from all over the county, some from churches and businesses and some on their own,” she said. “We also have local community volunteers. It’s hard to put a number on the volunteers. Some come in groups, some alone. It ends up being a few hundred spread out through the three days.”
Fernandes said that the reaction from everyone involved has been enthusiastic. “For the recipients, it is a blessing,” Fernandes said. “Many of them barely make it through the month. They are very grateful for the extra help. Volunteers enjoy helping and donors are generous. We usually get a lot of extra help at holiday time.”
Earley said that the event is a rewarding experience for her company. “The most rewarding part of this experience is being able to show how much we are a part of this community,” said Earley. “We serve more than 283,000 customers in New Jersey, including 140,000 right here in Union County, where many of our employees reside and are proud to call home. We’d like to think we’re more than just a natural gas utility. We’re your neighbors, and an important part of this community. We volunteer to make someone else’s life better; there is nothing more rewarding than helping others.”