LINDEN, NJ — More than 100 people bustled in and out of a lively Thanksgiving eve feast in what’s ordinarily an empty Linden storefront, outfitted for the occasion by the neighboring tenants at St. George’s Family Pharmacy, as town residents joined each other for an iconic holiday meal: Mashed potatoes, heaps of turkey and an intangible, family feeling that St. George’s wants to help foster in the area.
More than a dozen members of the Linden Fire Department joined the fourth annual Thanksgiving Dinner, as did Mayor Derek Armstead and Chamber of Commerce President Janice Miller, which is organized every November by the St. George’s pharmacy staff.
“We wanted to do this our first year, in 2011, but we opened in September. The first year we did it, we got three people and we ordered a pizza,” said Vineet Parikh, the owner of St. George’s. “Then it grew, through word of mouth. The majority of our customers find out about us through word of mouth. It’s great for us, as a way to give back, and hopefully we’ll have 1,000 people next year. That’s the best part about this, being able to see and talk with so many people, so many familiar faces.”
The catered food and community atmosphere attracted a steady stream of Linden residents for the two-hour event, as tables of people took turns stacking their plates with food. It was part of a national tradition of on-the-house Thanksgiving meals which has previously caught hold elsewhere in Union County, including in Elizabeth, where the city’s Portuguese Lions Club annually serves turkey to hundreds of people on Thanksgiving night.
It’s been a staple in Linden, though, since 2011, albeit one that started with humbler roots.
“What we’re doing today started as something very small, just sharing Thanksgiving dinner with a few people, a few patients. Then it got a little bit bigger, and this year we said ‘let’s take it to the next level,” said Mehar Mehta, who helped organize the event, in a speech to everyone gathered. “We just wanted to thank you so much for taking the invite, because we mean it. We’re so happy to have the ability to share Thanksgiving with people we see on a daily basis, or a weekly basis, a monthly basis, we could not be happier.”
It was an idea, said Parikh, that his girlfriend came up with before they celebrated Thanksgiving with a holiday meal four years ago, saying they thought it would be a good idea to give back to Linden. With three local residents, Parikh and others shared a pizza and stayed up late talking.
There was a similar end to this year’s edition, with plenty of conversation, while the dinner itself was bigger and better than before.
There was Thanksgiving trivia, tee-shirt giveaways, a heartfelt moment of thanks from one attendee, and a great number of people in need of a good holiday experience than in any of the previous years.
“The second year, there was six people. Last year we had almost 20 people, and that’s when I knew it was definitely worth it. So I had it catered, I made sure we had enough space, and I was excited for this year,” said Maritza Messinger, a Linden resident and St George’s employee. “It started out as ‘we wanted to help out those who didn’t have Thanksgiving.’ Because we knew people who didn’t have family, they didn’t have anyone to do anything with. And now there’s so many people.”