Unable to bring as many as 400 people together for its annual sit-down holiday meals, the Meriden YMCA will instead be serving turkeys and fixings to go on Thanksgiving.
The YMCA is one of many organizations in the area that has had to rethink how it provides food security to families in need as pandemic restrictions make it difficult to hold communal meals and food distribution events. Donation drives are being moved online, distributions are being converted to drive-through concepts and some meals have had to be canceled.
Meriden YMCA Executive Director John Benigni said they’ll miss out on the camaraderie and fellowship provided by hosting a gathering of so many members of the community, but it was determined serving meals to go was the safest way to continue providing assistance.
“We have some traditions at the Y and even in this most trying time we need to keep those traditions going,” Benigni said.
Those who would like to receive a Thanksgiving meal from the YMCA are asked to call 203-235-6386 ahead of time to help the Y gauge how many turkeys to prepare the prior evening, however they will be distributed on a first-come, first served basis. Pickup will be in front of the Meriden Y at 110 W. Main St. on Thanksgiving day.
Benigni said it was important that all families are able to receive food regardless of why they’re seeking aid.
“This is open to anyone and everyone and whatever circumstance that may be,” he said. “ … it’s not just some people are coming down because of financial reasons and some people are coming down because maybe they can't go to a loved one’s house this year and they don't have the capacity to cook this sized meal at home.”
The annual Turkey and Toy Drive, organized by the South Meriden Neighborhood Associations, is collecting food for the YMCA’s dinner and will be held at the South Meriden Firehouse, 31 Camp St., today from noon to 3 p.m.
Wallingford dinners canceled
Citing the state’s prohibition on indoor gatherings larger than 10 people, First Congregational Church in Wallingford has canceled both its Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, which each see around 200 to 400 people breaking bread in the church.
"We are canceling the 2020 Thanksgiving and Christmas Dinners. We regret making this choice, but feel we must protect the health of our community members,” dinner coordinator Bettina Cristin said in a message to the church’s community. “May God bless you and keep you healthy during this stressful time."
Local food pantries have also coordinated turkey distributions to try to reach as many people as possible. The United Way of Meriden and Wallingford refers those seeking help to New Opportunities of Greater Meriden, the Salvation Army and Master’s Manna in Wallingford, which all share their lists of clients to ensure that there are no duplicates.
“Around this time of the year our community is especially generous … in a year like this the need is increased and the offer for help has increased considerably as well,” United Way Executive Director Maria Harlow said.
With the spread of coronavirus ticking back up and many families out of work, she said the assistance comes at an important time
“Holidays are always a very challenging time. For a lot of families, they have to make tough choices: am I going to pay the electric bill or am I going to buy presents for my children … these programs really alleviate that pressure,” she said.
Salvation Army Corps Officer Lt. Kate Borrero said providing a holiday meal is the cornerstone to providing a sense of normalcy to families, especially children. The organization handed out around 200 baskets at its facility at 21 St. Casimir Dr. on Friday.
“It helps them to really focus that family is what’s important. When there’s that pressure and trauma of poverty, that can be so consuming …. that it’s affecting all areas of their life, their home life and academics,” she said.
Even with food provided by the United Way and the Connecticut Food Bank — plus 20 turkeys provided by InfraMetals in Wallingford — New Opportunities of Greater Meriden had to purchase fixings they had been able to acquire through food drives in past years.
“When it came to Thanksgiving baskets the need was much greater than one organization can handle,” said Director Dona Ditrio.
The nonprofit held two drive-through food distributions on Wednesday and Thursday at the Meriden Church of Christ, where around 200 food baskets were distributed. Volunteers from the Meriden Rotary Club helped organize sides like cranberries, corn and stuffing into packages, the size of which varied depending on the number of people in the household.
“When the cars pulled up we had everything bagged and then they got the turkey,” Ditrio said.
While both the Salvation Army and New Opportunities aren’t accepting any more applications for Thanksgiving baskets or turkeys, both have food pantries that are open to residents. New Opportunities also provides financial support for rent and utility bills, as well as help signing up for state Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.
While speaking to community members signing up for the Thanksgiving distribution, Ditrio said she heard from many families that are asking for aid for the first time this year after losing a job during the economic shutdown or while quarantining at home.
“A lot of people have pride, you can tell when they come in … that it’s difficult for households that have never had to say ‘I have no groceries,’” she said.