SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — As the country experiences record-breaking numbers of COVID-19 during what is normally one of the most traveled holiday weeks of the year, many are having to find different ways to make this Thanksgiving special. 

Chef, author and South Orange resident Shannon Sarna is having a small family Thanksgiving dinner and has been trying to give back as much as she can while so many families are struggling with unemployment and food insecurity.

“There is so much to be grateful for right now, and we are just trying to show our kids gratitude, to pay some generosity and love forward,” said Sarna.

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Her family has put together grocery bags and her husband’s business donated 15 turkeys to the Interfaith Food Pantry of the Oranges. Sarna teaches an online baking course through the Temple Emanu-El Streicker Center and has auctioned off the baked goods at the end of every class. Each week they donate the proceeds to a different organization including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Isaiah House in East Orange, and Mt. Sinai Hospital.

JESPY House has had to come up with unique ways to celebrate Thanksgiving this year as all their clients have been under quarantine since March. While the strict quarantine rules have kept JESPY from having a single positive COVID-19 test since the start of the pandemic, it has also meant that clients have not been able to socialize and visit family the way they normally would be this time of year. Nicole Rambone, the Social Wellness and Expressive Arts (SWEA) Supervisor, has organized a full day of virtual activities Wednesday to get clients excited for the holiday.

“We’re going to have our Turkey’s day eve chat to talk about what’s happening on Thanksgiving. We’ve found that our clients love to talk about their families,” said Rambone.

SWEA has also arranged for a client and her mother to teach a live Facebook tutorial on how to make a sweet potato pie. Other events include a discussion on giving thanks, a lesson on the history of Thanksgiving, and a paper turkey craft project. Rambone is expecting an even higher turnout than usual because so many clients are unable to travel this year.

While many JESPY clients live on their own there are also seven shared houses, the largest of which is the Och House for clients aged 50 and older.

“We’re just trying to make it special for them,” said Michelle Rampersant-Faulk, the Shared Housing Supervisor. “All nine clients had a piece in planning the meal this year.”

Clients at the Och House are dressing up for a full Thanksgiving meal this year prepared by the staff members.

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