PATERSON, NJ – In the spirit of the holiday, hundreds of Patersonians enjoyed free Thanksgiving dinners provided by various city community groups on Thursday.
At the Masonic Lodge on Broadway, Mary Johnson was in the kitchen by 7 am, preparing the cornbread and stuffing for more than 200 people expected at the 4th Ward Alliance’s holiday meal.
At School No. 8 on Chadwick Street at 9:30 am, the Paterson Police Athletic League and volunteers from Woodcliffe Lakes were handing out holiday meals to needy families from the 2nd Ward neighborhood.
At Eva’s Village on Main Street, volunteers were setting tables at 10:30 am as hungry men already were lining up at the door. This marked the first Thanksgiving since Eva’s added expanded its dining area, creating space for an extra 160 people, allowing as many as 400 folks to sit down and eat at once.
“We don’t have them stand in a chow line,’’ said Joanne Fagan, spokeswoman for Eva’s. “We let them sit down and we serve them. That’s part of our mission to treat them with dignity.’’
Outside, Stephen Talmadge was among the first in line. “I’m with all my friends here,’’ said Talmadge, who said he comes to Eva’s about three times a week for non-holiday meals. “It’s part of my routine. I come here all the time.
Talmadge said he’s been coming to Eva’s for Thanksgiving dinner for more than a decade. It was Raymond Hinton’s first time. A year ago, Hinton said he was working on Thanksgiving at a food distribution company in Bergen County. But he lost that job in the winter and his life has spiraled downward, he said.
“I used to bust my butt to make sure all the food went out on time,’’ Hinton said. “Now look at me. This is a new experience for me.’’
Hinton has been staying at Eva’s shelter since the summer. “There’s a lot of homeless people with skills who can’t find a job,’’ he said.
At the Masonic Lodge, many volunteers have been preparing the holiday meals for more than two decades. “I feel joy doing this,’’ said Johnson, who has been doing it for 22 years. “It feels good helping people who need it.’’
At School 8, the PAL was teamed with volunteers lead by Jennifer Farber of Woodcliffe Lakes. Garber has spent Thanksgivings volunteering at a New York soup kitchen before she and her husband moved to New Jersey more than five years ago. She was looking for a new place to help out during the holidays when someone suggested the Paterson PAL.
The first year, she raised enough money to buy 60 holiday meals costing $75 apiece from a Bergen County restaurant – each large enough to feed a family of six. This year, Farber’s fund-raising efforts were enough for 100 meals.
At School 8, the PAL and Farber’s friends were distributing the large boxes of pre-cooked food to needy families. “It’s very exciting,’’ said Farber. “We’ve grown every year.’’