Giving thanks: Local agencies offer assistance to those in need

Released November 24, 2021

LOWVILLE — While the holiday season is a time for giving, it can also be the most challenging time of year for low- or fixed-income families, especially as costs continue to rise.

Thankfully, the north country is home to many agencies that can help out.

This week, hundreds of volunteers in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties are giving back with free turkey dinners and the fixings. Holiday fundraisers for presents and cold weather clothing are kicking off.

In addition to offering food, volunteers work to make those who receive meals or ingredients have a positive experience, whether that means having a conversation, or simply wishing a happy Thanksgiving.

In order for these agencies and organizations to do their work, donations play a critical role. Even throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, communities have come through to help provide for those in need.

At the Lewis County Office for the Aging, meal drivers also do safety checks on their seniors. If something's not quite right, drivers will either contact their site manager or the office directly to take the lead and reach out to emergency contacts.

According to Vicki A. Meyer, meal program coordinator for the Lewis County OFA, the office receives state, federal and county money for the home-delivered meals program. Suggested donations that come in from participants are also used.

"It's a big service in this county," she said. "On an average day, we can serve anywhere between 130 and 150 individuals. And that's just home-delivered. That's not counting our congregate sites."

The office has five sites open to seniors for lunch with other seniors and social time. With pandemic shutdowns, the goal was to continue providing meals to those already enrolled in the program, but also offer home-delivered meals to congregate folks who attended meal sites on a daily basis.

The Lowville Food Pantry used to give full Thanksgiving dinners with a turkey and fixings, but now the pantry gives families a gift card for the turkey and provides everything else for their dinner. With many children of low-income families receiving breakfast and lunch through their schools when in session, the pantry helps provide food during breaks, sending a large additional box of food to make sure those kids are covered.

As with many efforts in local communities, help comes from all over.

According to Nancy J. Hanno, who has been involved with the pantry and its various programs for years, Kraft Heinz typically donates pallets of food. Another help is purchasing items from the Food Bank, as well as churches giving donations of either money or food items. Mrs. Hanno said if the pantry sends them a request for 100 cans of something, they will deliver.

Meals to go, againLena M. Parker, a social worker with the Salvation Army in Watertown, has been coordinating Thanksgiving meals and holiday food boxes at the organization for the last eight years. During a normal year, the Salvation Army cooks turkeys on site — eight turkeys a day — about a week before Thanksgiving. Then Renzi Foodservice provides the organization with most of what else is needed for the meal. Volunteers will come in the day before Thanksgiving to carve the turkeys and prepare what they can ahead of the big day.

Last year, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, things needed to be switched up a bit. Instead of dining in, many people called in their orders, which went out for delivery. Those who would normally come in and eat lined up outside the building and told volunteers how many meals they needed, which would then be packaged up and brought out to them. The Salvation Army also had people pulling up and asking for meals.

This year, things will run the same way. The only difference is pedestrians will be asked to come to the front door, and those driving up, as well as delivery drivers, will be directed to the back door. Last year, the Salvation Army gave out 852 meals. Mrs. Parker is expecting the same this year.

The Salvation Army is completely donation-reliant when it comes to Thanksgiving. Usually around the holiday, Mrs. Parker said the community brings turkeys and pies and all kinds of different items that she can incorporate into the Thanksgiving meals. In anticipation of the holiday this year, Renzi Foodservice recently delivered 1,500 pounds of donated food and supplies to Capt. Dominic Nicoll and his team in support of the initiative.

Turkeys and kitsOn Monday, the Watertown Urban Mission received 100 turkeys through the governor's office and handed them out Tuesday morning. The Urban Mission didn't receive any additional fixings beyond the turkeys, but donations and inquiries were coming in all day Monday, so a limited supply of Thanksgiving dinner side dishes have been provided by the community, Executive Director Dawn M. Cole said.

For the second year, Flower Memorial Library in Watertown distributed its "Everything but the Turkey" food kits Tuesday morning. The library had 75 food kits to give away to families in need. The kits include a cookbook or children's book and nearly everything to make a Thanksgiving dinner, except the turkey.

Suzanne C. Renzi-Falge, librarian III manager, said the library purchases all the materials with its own funding from various unused donations or grants it has received. It's all non-perishables needed to make a Thanksgiving meal, including cans of corn, green beans, cream of mushroom soup, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn bread and a dessert option.

The library also adds donated cookbooks and a children's book if a "family bag" option is chosen. The library also provides paper plates and plastic cutlery.

"It's something we started last year during COVID because we knew there was a need in this community, especially with a lot of people out of work," Mrs. Renzi-Falge said. "And it's clear that there's still a need."

Mrs. Renzi-Falge helps with the distribution along with a coworker and security guard. She said donations are of utmost importance for the program as library funding is cut every year, and that the library is very appreciative of any grants or donations it receives.

"We're always thankful and happy to put the money to good use however we can," she said.

Reaching out to neighborsThe St. Lawrence County Community Development Program oversees many neighborhood centers across the county, which are partially grant-funded with remaining costs covered by donations.

Executive director Felicia J. Neahr said each center takes a slightly different approach for each holiday, but most do some sort of Thanksgiving basket. That often means they provide either turkey or a turkey voucher, and as many fixings as they can.

"We've tried to keep it as affordable as possible because it is mostly donation driven, though we're able to purchase some things through the CNY Food Bank," she said. "If there's anybody out there in need, if they're struggling, I really would love for them to reach out to the neighborhood centers."

Kristal D. Hayes, director of the Potsdam Neighborhood Center, said the center had its distribution on Friday and served about 25 low- or fixed-income individuals. This was her second year doing a Thanksgiving program.

Other assistance programs, both for the holidays and year round, include a free food pantry, budgeting, and energy bill help, combined with a Thanksgiving meal, Christmas toys, and other holiday support. There are also multiple intake and application sites including in Ogdensburg, Potsdam, Colton, Massena, Pierrepont, Parishville and Gouverneur.

At first United Methodist Church in Massena, cook Karen A. Murray runs the show when it comes to Thanksgiving distributions.

This is the second year the church has offered meals, having cooked 400 last year. This year, the plan is to cook 500 meals involving 40 turkeys and 50 pumpkin pies, plus all the fixings.

According to Mrs. Murray, donations come in from the community at large, as well as St. Peter's Parish, with most of the people from the parish buying the turkeys.

"I know there's a lot of people that have no means or ways to cook a turkey dinner like we're serving," Mrs. Murray said. "There's just a lot of feedback that it's really needed in the community."

She noted that community members have been generous with donations, which helps keep up with increasing need during the holidays.

Mrs. Murray said the church has been getting calls from as far away as Madrid to deliver for people who have no way of getting to the church to receive a meal. As of Monday, there were about 50 requests for deliveries.

The turkeys were cooked Monday, pies and rolls were compiled Tuesday, and everything gets cooked to temperature Wednesday and served in the afternoon from 3 to 6 p.m.

Those looking for meals can drive up to First United Methodist, 189 Main St., and volunteers will come out to them. Mrs. Murray said the church will have Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts on site to run meals back and forth.

"We couldn't do it without all the support," she said. "I just would like to see a great turnout and people that really need it to come forward and have a delicious dinner."

Article sourced from NNY360