Helping Hands: A Turkey Dinner Stuffed With Goodwill

89067a3407249b3da6ef_hh2.jpg
Mary Johnson's been making stuffing for 23 years
6539dc625dfeba1e8b13_hh1.jpg
Helping Hands: The kitchen frenzy
89067a3407249b3da6ef_hh2.jpg

PATERSON, NJ - Bennie Cook was still sleeping when his phone rang at 7:16 am on Thanksgiving morning. The doors of the Integrity Masonic Temple on Broadway were locked, with about 12 people waiting in the cold outside, ready to start cooking Thanksgiving diner for the needy. Someone had to let them in, and Cook had the keys.

"I threw on some clothes and went down,'' said Cook. "It wasn't a problem. I know the good they do every year.''  
It takes more than some locked doors to get in the way of a 27-year Paterson Thanksgiving tradition - the "Helping Hands" holiday meal run by Councilwoman Vera Ames-Garnes and the 4th Ward Alliance. The event brings together young and old, black and white, politicians and gadflies - all focused on giving something back on a day to give thanks.
 
"We usually get two to three hundred people here to eat and we get about 100 volunteers,'' said Ed Cotton, a Masonic Temple member, Helping Hands volunteer and veteran boxing referee. "It's open to anybody. We don't turn anybody away.''
 

By 10 am, the dinner preparations were well underway. Volunteers had sorted clothing donations in one corner of the hall. Others had cleaned the tables and covered them with tablecloths. The kitchen was a hubbub of activity: Fifteen volunteers were crammed in tight quarters, preparing the 12 turkeys, 50 pounds of potato salad, 50 pounds of collard greens, 24 large cans of yams, and more.
 
Jeanette Thompson, 63, was in charge of the cooking crew. She roamed the room, checking each platter and tray. She's been part of the event since it started back in the early 1980s. "We used to have four or five people in here, you can see what it's become now,'' said Thompson. "Some of the young people, they don't have the experience. You gotta keep your eye on them. You gotta make sure they prepare everything properly, make sure they wash everything right.''
 
Thompson didn't have to worry much about Mary Johnson, who was over at the stove, making the stuffing. Johnson has spent the last 23 Thanksgivings at Helping Hands. "I love people and I know there are people out there suffering,'' she said. Johnson was mixing cornbread with carrots, celery, onions and poultry seasoning. "Then I put in my own little stuff for extra flavor,'' she said. What is it? "I can't tell you that,'' she smiled.
 
Some volunteers at the Masonic Temple were second generation Helping Hands volunteers. Take the Pattersons, for examlpe. Gerline had started back when she was a teenager. Now she's 44 and had brought along her eight-year-old daughter, Jariah. "It makes you feel good,'' explained the elder Patterson.
 
Many of the volunteers came from city youth groups, kids whose friends were still sleeping, or on their way to the Turkey Bowl football game. 
 
Paterson Great Falls YouthBuild had a contingent. "This is my way of giving back to the community,'' said Marckale Clarkson, 23. "I wanted to help the community,'' said Luis Rosario, 21. "It's a positive thing to feed people who don't have it,'' said Shawna Townes, 22.
 
Several teenagers from Passaic County Community College's College Bound/GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) were volunteering at Helping Hands for their fourth year. They recalled their experience serving meals the past couple years.
 
"It gives me closure, seeing that they have something to eat,'' said Jacklyn Zenteno, 16.
 
"It's very emotional when you see people coming in here that don't have the things we have,'' said Mia Smith, 17.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Paterson

Upcoming Events

Fri, February 23

Memorial Hall, Paterson

Cost Free Courses

Education

Sat, March 3, 12:00 PM

The Bethwood, Totowa

Have-A-Heart Tricky Tray

Food & Drink Giving Back

City Council Candidate to Voters: Let Your Voice Be Heard

February 20, 2018

Dear Editor:

It is very important for the citizens of Paterson to participate in local city-wide elections because elected officials can help determine the economic, educational and social well-being of entire communities. For example, two very important tasks of city council members include making laws and allocating money.

Elected officials are the gatekeepers for millions of dollars in ...

Dreams for Service Dog for Autistic Montville Resident Become Reality

February 22, 2018

MONTVILLE, NJ - Faith Stanley, a Towaco resident and a single mother of four boys, sought help for her youngest son, Joey, who is almost three years old and diagnosed with autism. Amazingly enough, Faith found the help she needed!

Due to the generosity and help of so many people, Faith has managed to reach her goal of raising ...

Paterson Hosts Statewide Event as National El Sistema Leader

February 22, 2018

PATERSON—On March 10, nearly 300 students from seven New Jersey immersive ensemble music learning programs will converge in Paterson for the 4th annual Fiddlefest and Falala Festival. A day of music making and a celebration of culture and community for both the students and their families, the festival features the Paterson-based program Paterson Music Project (PMP), in addition to the New ...

How to Talk with Kids About the Florida Shooting

February 15, 2018

The tragedy of the Florida school shooting is devastating, leaving 17 killed and 15 injured. Our children can easily identify with what occurred yesterday. It will be the topic of conversation today in schools everywhere. School administrators are doing all they can to provide support and guidance. The shootings affect children, teachers, and school personnel. The school shooting ...