NEWARK, NJ — Volunteers processed tens of thousands of pounds of food donations on Monday, shuffling boxed and canned goods, turkeys, noodles and more across the gymnasium of JFK Recreation Center in preparation for the more than 6,000 people who showed up to feed their families. 

With hundreds already lined up outside the rec center before its doors even opened, the 1,000 community members who pitched in had their work cut out for them as they distributed the goods by ward. The Believe in Newark Foundation sponsored the event with support from Goya, Pepsi, HelloFresh, Sylvia’s Soul Food Products, Riviana Foods and others. 

For Newarker Joan Sorbino, the giveaway was a saving grace for her family’s Thanksgiving meal.

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“Thanksgiving would not look too uplifting because I was supposed to get my turkey from Salvation Army, and they ran out of applications. This was my last chance, so that’s why I’m here,” Sorbino said. “It makes a lot of difference, there are a lot of people who are on a fixed income and can’t afford Thanksgiving dinner. It’s a great opportunity.”

According to Farm Bureau Federation, a Thanksgiving meal costs about $50 for a group of 10, or about $5 per person. With nearly 30 percent of Newark’s population living below the federal poverty line, many rely on food drives to afford the holiday traditions Americans take for granted. 

More than 6,000 turkeys were donated by ShopRite of Newark ahead of the expected turnout. The giveaway also helps local community centers like churches and food pantries stock up on supplies for their neighbors in need. Harrison George of Bloomfield said he was there to pick up the necessary foods to stage a community dinner.  

“There’s always a need. There’s a serious wealth and income gap in the state, and a lot of people in the city who would love to use their money for other things besides rent and clothes,” said Mayor Ras Baraka. “The opportunity we give them to get a turkey allows them to keep money in their households and pockets. There are families out here who desperately need a turkey and canned goods around the holiday season.”