NEWARK, NJ — Though families in Newark and across the state might be short on extended family gatherings this Thanksgiving, that hasn’t stopped the Brick City from going long on support for those in need. 

The pandemic’s impact on the city’s population of 280,000 has inflated unemployment and homelessness while decreasing access to certain services. From turkey giveaways to hot meals, residents and institutions in Newark and Essex County are responding to these hardships with philanthropic ferver. 

Check out how folks in Newark are coming together to ensure a hot Thanksgiving meal for as many as possible. 

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City of Newark, Partners Distribute 6,000 Turkeys

Newark joined forces with the Believe in Newark Foundation, Shop-Rite of Newark, HelloFresh, Green Giant, Pepsi, Sylvia’s Soul Food Products and others to put 6,000 turkeys in the hands of residents. 

Sponsored by Believe in Newark, the city was also able to hand out canned goods, side dish options, desserts, produce and other food products. Volunteers gathered to assemble the care packages at the JFK Recreation Center. 

“2020 has been a challenging year, but through our unity, commitment to progress, and mutual love, we still have much to be thankful for. I am happy to share the bounty of this season to our residents along with my wishes for a blessed Thanksgiving,” Mayor Ras Baraka said.
 
In total, Newark and its partners distributed: 


 
Shop-Rite of Newark: 6,000 turkeys
HelloFresh: Delivered 5,000 kits of Thanksgiving side items
Green Giant: Donated 6,000 units of canned goods
Pepsi: Donated 3,000 units of assorted Pepsi products
Sylvia’s Soul Food Products: Donated multiple units from Sylvia’s Food Product line
Bindi North America, Inc.: 1291 boxes of Mini-Mixed Berry Tarts
Brantley Brothers: Transported donations to the JFK site
Baldor’s: Multiple cases of fresh produce
 
“Each year, the Believe In Newark Foundation along with the City of Newark provides thousands of turkeys to Newark families in need to show our love and support of these families and enable them to share in the special warmth of this festive time of year,” said Believe in Newark Foundation Board President Andre Hollis. 

Anibal Ramos Jr. Civic Association

In the North Ward, the Anibal Ramos Jr. Civic Association continued its annual tradition of distributing turkeys to needy families. This year, 1,300 turkeys were distributed to 18 churches, senior residences and nonprofit organizations. ARJ Civic has been organizing food distributions since the coronavirus pandemic began in the Spring, helping to distribute thousands of boxes of food.

"We've been helping families in need for years around Thanksgiving," said Councilman Anibal Ramos Jr. "But this year, we are seeing much more need from families who are hurting because of the coronavirus pandemic. I am glad we are able to step up to help so many of our neighbors."

Ramos said ARJ Civic received support from state Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz, Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin, Baraka, Councilmen Luis A. Quintana and Carlos M. Gonzalez and the Hispanic Law Enforcement Coalition of Essex County.

Vegan Thanksgiving for Those Struggling with Homelessness

Last year, TAPinto Newark reported on Hip Hop is Green’s unique vegan Thanksgiving event. While indoor gatherings are suspended due to COVID-19, that didn’t stop HHG from teaming up with local restaurants and the nonprofits Bridges Outreach and Mercy for Animals to provide vegan meals for the homeless. 

Monarch Housing Associates puts Newark’s homeless count at nearly 2,000 as of January 2019, but the number is likely much higher now as a result of COVID-19’s economic fallout. On Tuesday, volunteers set up shop outside Bridges Outreach’s home base on Halsey Street. 

The food served to about 100 Newark residents without addresses was all healthy, plant-based cuisine from 5 of the area’s vegan eateries, according to MFA head organizer Peter Ortiz. 

“I came to know Bridges Outreach a few months ago in my volunteer role as Newark head organizer for Mercy For Animals,” Ortiz said. “Thanks to an MFA initiative called Plants to the People that focused on supporting vegan restaurants during the pandemic, we were able to pay 10 vegan restaurants/vegan chefs to prepare and deliver their food to programs run by two non-profits in Newark over a three-month period.” 

Over the course (no pun intended) of the pandemic, Plants to the People delivered meals to Bridges Outreach, which then drove and delivered these meals to the city’s unsheltered people. 

Brides Executive Director Richard Uniacke said with many services to the homeless now unavailable, such as showers and indoor space to stay warm during the day, generosity is more important now than ever. 

“This year is very different from the same time last year. We’re really worried about the onset of cold weather and people not having an opportunity to warm up during the day — you can’t go to the (YMCA), you can’t go to the library,” he said. “Working with the city and the new Office of Homeless Services, we’re working on other options, especially non-congregant options.”

Readers can help Bridges facilitate COVID-19-safe winter options for Newark’s homeless at bridgesoutreach.org. 

Newark Working Kitchens Activates Local Restaurants to Deliver Meals

Newark Working Kitchens (NWK), which pays local restaurants to package nutritious meals to low-income seniors and families, is gearing up to deliver 10,000 Thanksgiving meals between now and Nov. 26. 
 
The 24 eateries that are part of NWK, which have helped serve more than 600,000 throughout the pandemic,  are creating Thanksgiving-themed menus. NWK helps restaurants supplement their stymied income while serving those left hungry during COVID-19. 
 
Each of the 24 Newark-based restaurants involved in NWK has created their own Thanksgiving-inspired menu and will deliver thousands of meals to local residents in senior, low-income and disabled housing.
 
This collaboration has been made possible thanks to a special donation from Audible’s Black Employee Network (BEN). Audible launched Newark Working Kitchens in April as a continuation of its years-long support for local restaurants. 
 
“I celebrate and thank these amazing restaurants that have delivered more than 600,000 meals and will continue cooking for their neighbors most in need around Thanksgiving,” said Don Katz, Audible founder and executive chairman. “Newark Working Kitchens continues to be validated as a win-win for community members without enough food and the independent small businesses that can stay in business, and I urge corporations, philanthropies and donors of all giving levels to help us sustain this vital program.”
 
“2020 has been a challenging year and for many that means a very different Thanksgiving than what’s been enjoyed in the past, so we appreciate impactful supporters like Newark Working Kitchens (NWK) helping our residents through these times,” said Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka. 
 
Since launching in April, NWK has delivered meals to more than 10,000 residents across 60 locations. All meals are prepared by NWK’s 24 participating restaurants, more than half of which are owned by minorities, women or both. NWK has sustained hundreds of jobs during the pandemic and helped restaurants relaunch services and rehire staff over the last six months, according to a press release. 

“During the holiday season everyone deserves to be able to eat a hot meal. Especially this year when we’re in the midst of a pandemic, it’s important that we take care of our neighbors," said Walter Green, owner of Uncle Willie’s Wings. “Community is so important to me and 2020 has presented challenges that none of us could have ever imagined.  This Thanksgiving I am so grateful that I survived Covid-19 and that my restaurant survived its first year of operations.  None of this would have been possible if I hadn’t been able to become a part of Newark Working Kitchens to serve Newark during this difficult time.”

Essex County

Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. along with the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders distributed nearly 3,000 frozen turkeys and boxes of non-perishable food distributed at Essex County Branch Brook Park Cherry Blossom Welcome Center. The program is meant to benefit families who have been forced out of work and are not able to afford food.