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Helping hands extended

Local volunteer reflects on her feelings while serving at a food pantry

Volunteers at the Teaneck Helping Hands Food Pantry are ready to serve Thanksgiving fare.
Volunteers at the Teaneck Helping Hands Food Pantry are ready to serve Thanksgiving fare.

There’s something about Thanksgiving that’s just so appealing to the senses.

The crisp November weather hasn’t yet reached icy polar extremes. Orange, yellow, and some green leaves cling for dear life to nearly bare branches. People are still out and about, strolling, walking pets, and enjoying the last vestiges of fall foliage.

Perhaps it’s watching the Macy’s Day Parade in your pajamas that appeals to you? Despite dire predictions of severe winds, Snoopy and the other balloons survived. Or perhaps you love digging into that turkey dinner with all the carb trimmings — but chicken or Chinese are also shame-free options. No one is going fault you for declining the turkey.

Whether you are hosting or guesting, there aren’t expectations of any major gift distribution. Maybe bring along a bottle of wine, some cookies, a pie? Really no stress, no mess.

Thanksgiving is about spending precious quality time with friends and family. It’s a day about people being American, plain and simple. Many even continue the tradition while visiting or living abroad. Thankfully, you can drive home to sleep off the effects of the huge meal and turkey tryptophan that puts everyone into that sleepy zone.

The only thing you really need on Thanksgiving is a glimmer of gratitude — or maybe a whole lot of it. Last Thursday, Teaneck Helping Hands Food Pantry participants at the Rain venue were feeling a whole lot of gratitude. According to Elie Katz, Teaneck’s deputy mayor and the founder of Teaneck Helping Hands Food Pantry, the Thanksgiving event is meaningful on many levels. “There is no greater feeling than feeding people in this community event, where everyone is involved,” he said. “The restaurants and community contribute with open hearts and make my life easy.”

Seniors, veterans, emergency service workers, and anyone who needed a warm meal are invited. This year, the meal was donated by Dougies, Maadan, Chopstix, and Butterflake — and the Thanksgiving fare was delicious and abundant.

The beauty of this event was that everyone was involved in order to respect the privacy and dignity of people in need of a warm meal. Everyone who attended was considered a volunteer and asked to eat together at the tables, which were set so nicely.

Families came together, and there was an area in back for children to play an assortment of games. Fun activities included face painting, basketball, and pretzels and popcorn making. Children made the pretzels and popcorn and gave them away — it was an amazing and meaningful way to involve children.

As a first-time volunteer to this event, I found everyone friendly and open. No time was lost in filling up my plate with turkey, stuffing, lo mein, and cranberry sauce. Sandi, another volunteer who was sitting next to me at the table, enthusiastically shared her experience with the food pantry. “It’s a chance to give back, and I believe in volunteerism as a way of life,” she said. “This is an opportunity for all people to come and share a meal. Even though there are just too many delicious carbs!”

When it was my turn to put on an apron and gloves to serve, another volunteer, Chaya, told me that she used to work in food service. “I know what it means to people to have a nice hot meal,” she said. “People really appreciate it.”

A sense of patriotism wasn’t in short supply either. Special shout-outs, applause, and recognition were given to the fire department, the sheriff, police officers, and veterans who attended. According to the statistics from the United States Department of Labor, New Jersey has the highest rate of unemployment among veterans — people who served in the military but no longer are on active duty. Many veterans struggle to make ends meet. In addition, many seniors are living in or near poverty levels.

It feels good to live in a community that cares. There are many ways to help on Thanksgiving and throughout the year at the Teaneck Helping Hands Food Pantry. Volunteers are always needed and appreciated as drivers, volunteer coordinators, fundraisers, and pantry workers.

All you really need are some helping hands.

Esther Kook of Teaneck is a reading specialist, language arts teacher, and freelance writer.

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