Thanksgiving is America’s family holiday, but for New York’s victims of superstorm Sandy, family this year got bigger, with total strangers arriving to ensure that even the neediest got turkey, apple pie and lashings of love.
In a rough part of the Rockaways neighborhood, on the Atlantic outskirts of the Big Apple, hundreds of people were treated Thursday to an open-air feast outside a school.
Teenaged students, church organizers, and a DJ were among the army of volunteers serving hundreds of locals.
Roasted turkey, cranberry sauce, peas, macaroni and cheese, potatoes, green beans, stuffing, pumpkin pie, apple pie, cupcakes — nothing was missing. And it was a scene repeated in varying scales at makeshift lunches throughout storm-hit areas of the city.
“My goodness. It’s so amazing. I am lost for words,” said Lucille James, 52.
She’d just got back electricity after 13 days in the dark, but she was waiting to collect a Thanksgiving meal plus a couple donated blankets to bring to an elderly, apartment-bound woman still without cooking gas.
“All the fixings, all the trimmings, everything I can to make her happy,” James said.
Also in line was Lorides Rivera, 30, who got back to her apartment Wednesday for the first time since the hurricane-strength storm hit three and a half weeks ago, only to find it full of mold and water.
“I cried all last night,” said the mother of nine.
This section of the Rockaways is not an easy place, even without natural disasters, so the sight of volunteers on Thanksgiving really did give Rivera something to be thankful for.
“There’s always shootings, people being killed. Every day you hear about people getting shot,” she said. “This is amazing to see people getting together and helping. This is a blessing.”
City, state and federal governments responded massively to one of the most damaging storms to hit the New York area, but volunteer aid efforts have often been the most visible response across New York and New Jersey.
“I put it on Facebook and everybody called in. This is what happens,” said one of the Rockaways lunch organizers, a disc jockey who goes by the name DJ Showtime.
“Sometimes you have to give back. I’ve been deejaying at parties for a long time and you have to give back to the people who support you,” he said.
All morning, volunteers bustled about setting up: hot food on one side of the long tables, cold on the other, deserts at the far end, and to the sides a small department store’s worth of household products, clothing and blankets ready for donation.
As the public began to arrive and final touches were applied, a woman stood on a stool to say grace. Immediately the hubbub died, people throughout the schoolyard bowing their heads and holding hands.
“Bless the families that are here. Bless us as well,” the woman said.
“Hallelujah!” the crowd responded.
It was time to carve the turkey.