NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Elijah’s Promise has built a reputation as one of the most prominent soup kitchen’s in the Central Jersey region​.​

​This Thanksgiving, organizers had another go at living up to that title.

The numbers are now in: ​More than 500 meals were served to guests who came and went over the course of Thanksgiving day, many of them homeless, or among the area’s neediest families.

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Those who came in for food were treated to an impressive, calorie-laden buffet.

“​Twenty-six turkeys, 16 hams, eight cases of collard greens, yams​,​ cornbread, stuffing​, 15 pans of mac n’ cheese, 100 pound of potato salad,” said Chef Pam Johnson, who oversees all operations at the community kitchen.

While 500 guests might seem like a lot, the number of guests who stopped by for a warm meal is lower than last year, Johnson said.

That’s because different groups across the city hosted Thanksgiving meals to those who otherwise wouldn’t have had one, Johnson said.

“Throughout the past couple years, we’ve had churches and other places doing Thanksgiving, which takes some of the weight,” Johnson said. “A shared responsibility in the community​; t​hat’s makes a difference.”

The Monday before Thanksgiving, city officials gave out hundreds of free turkeys, one to each family, which Johnson said helped lighten the demand which would normally be placed on Elijah’s Promise.

Yet the crowd was enough that board members from Elijah’s Promise helped out, while Assemblyman Joe Danielsen, who represents New Brunswick in the State Legislature, stopped by.

For volunteers, the soup kitchen on Thanksgiving day was round-the-clock work. One volunteer, Achim Jansen from Scotch Plains, went from cutting turkeys to serving food to preparing leftovers to be served o​ver​ the ​long holiday ​weekend.​

“Everyone was happy,” Jansen said.

As a stay-at-home dad, Jansen added, he’s spent many years cooking for his family, so volunteering to help out with meals for a much larger group wasn’t all that different.

Eating like royalty

For most of the year, the community soup kitchen maintains guidelines for what kinds of foods the guests can get and how much of that food they can have.

“There’s a selection of protein, starch and vegetable, and you have the station for the salad bar and the soup,” Johnson said.

Seconds are allowed for the soup and salad. Staying true to the kitchen’s pursuit of healthy eating, the soups are generally jam packed with vegetables, Johnson said.

“They love soup, so that’s where you load up the vegetables,” Johnson said, adding that the salads generally haven’t been that popular with guests.  

But on a day like Thanksgiving, all bets are off.

“This is the only day they’re able to be a glutton, eat what they want, we’re not watching their diet for that day,” Johnson said. “It’s Thanksgiving, we want them to feel good, we want them to be happy about coming in here.”

Looking ahead

With Thanksgiving over, Elijah’s Promise is ​now in ​the holiday rush, during which a significant portion of the donations for the year are received.

On the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, donations of frozen meats and turkeys had been stuffed into the freezers and refrigerators.

Many of them came in after Thanksgiving, Johnson said, and already, excess food donations are being divvied up to other food pantries and faith-based organizations across the city.

“We don’t want to be gluttonous​ either, if we’re just taking it and there’s nowhere to put it, it goes bad, to waste,” Johnson said.

All the leftovers from Thanksgiving are expected to be gone by the end of th​is​ week. Many of them were served to guests on Black Friday, and then more of them the next day.

The remaining hams were shredded to make a fried ham dish, which was served late Tuesday morning as part of a brunch the community kitchen serves once a week.

With the leftovers soon gone, Elijah’s Promise and the faith-based community will still be seeking food donations, which could be shared throughout a network of community service organizations across the city.

If you’re interested in donating food, or volunteering to help out with the community kitchen or other social services, ​visit​ Elijah’s Promise.