PATERSON, NJ – In the basement of a city church, more than 20 Patersonians gathered together recently for a pre-Thanksgiving dinner. They talked and laughed and shared a bountiful meal.

This group of senior citizens had something special to be thankful for this year – they had survived the flooding that engulfed Paterson after Hurricane Irene.

Sign Up for E-News

“I have never seen anything like this in my life,’’ said 77-year-old Ocie High, recalling the floods that forced her and a few thousand other people to evacuate the apartment buildings on Presidential Boulevard.

“I was really frightened,’’ said Viola Willimas, 74, who lives in a two-family house on Ann Street, “when the water from the Passaic River began rising all around me.’’

The days without power and the nights in makeshift shelters – all those trials and tribulations were behind them now. So, on Sat., Nov. 19, they came together at Christ Temple Baptist Church on Hopper Street to give thanks and enjoy a holiday meal provided by the church and the Grandparent Relatives Care Resource Center Inc.

“Many Paterson residents are still affected due to the flood and don’t have food, shelter or facilities to prepare meals,” said Dr. Jessie M. Dixon, founder of the Grandparent group.

Dixon happens to be legally blind, but that hasn’t stopped her efforts for the needy. “Thank God for the diligence and perseverance of Dr. Jessie Dixon.  She is simply amazing!” said Dr. Rev. Gregory C. Turner, Christ Temple’s pastor.

The menu featured turkey, ham, fried chicken, candied yams, collard greens, cornbread and stuffing. Afterwards, the cakes and pies offered for dessert were mouth-watering. The dinner was made with love and served with dignity in an effort to unite Patersonians in a spiritual and uplifting environment. 

Turner said events like the Thanksgiving dinner are part of the healing process.  He said that although government agencies and charities have provided crucial aid, it has not been enough to restore normalcy for many of the flood victims as the winter months approach.

Everyone at the dinner had a tale of hardship from the flood. McCarther Williams, 77, a resident of Riverview Towers, was forced to leave his apartment when the power and gas went off. He sought refuge temporarily at the East Side High School gymnasium for 9 days.

“It was crowded in there but was generally okay,’’ he recalled.  “They had 2 televisions sets in there.”  He laughed saying, “I made a few new friends and met a lot of people I never knew before.”

Mary Johnson age 73, also of Riverview Towers, was displaced due to the flood. Her building had no electrical power, no gas and no phone lines operating.  She watched apprehensively as the flood waters rose rapidly. With no elevators operating, she found herself homebound with no television for two weeks.

“Luckily, I had my cell phone which enabled me to be in contact with friends and family members,’’ Johnson said. “I just tried to stay calm and deal with it. What more can one do?”

Louise Brown, 74, said the basement of her building at 2 Broadway was completely flooded.  “I was one of the lucky ones,’’ Brown said. “Thankfully the water stopped rising before it did serious damage to my home.” 

Wahaedah Muhammad, 75, lives in a three-family house at 32 Van Hunter Avenue. “My backyard looked like a raging river,’’ she said. “I was marooned in the house for days.’’