Fresh on the heels of hurricane relief efforts, several New London organizations have rallied to bring in more donations in traditional Thanksgiving collections.
Kelly Horton, the vice president of the Gemma E. Moran United Way Labor Food Center, said the center distributes food to 96 programs that arrange Thanksgiving baskets for the holiday. Horton said the effort serves 20,000 people in New London County living at the federal poverty line, and that this number has increased by about 2,000 since last year.
“I would say the community really helped us meet our goal,” said Horton. “Without that we wouldn’t have been able to make our goal. We’re still accepting donations as well.”
Moran said the collection effort starts in June and that partnering organizations began putting in requests for turkeys over the past couple of months. The total number of requested birds: 2,300.
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Organizations have to raise money toward the effort as well. The Connecticut Food Bank assists in the effort through donations of items such as potatoes, carrots, onions, and sweet potatoes. Thanksgiving-themed donations are set aside for the special effort, while other food items are being used to replenish a pantry depleted by Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.
Horton said the center has been able to meet the numbers requested by all of the organizations with the exception of the Salvation Army, which asked for 500 turkeys and received 250. She said any more turkeys that are collected will go to them of the OIC of New London County, which has 350 turkeys available for people who are not receiving a turkey through any other effort but wish to pick one up before the holiday.
Mark Vanover, an envoy with the New London office of the Salvation Army, said the organization purchased $3,000 worth of turkeys to ensure it would meet its requested number. He said the organization has streamlined its holiday process to allow a two-week application period to cover both the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons.
“We’ll duplicate the services in another couple of weeks, so we’ll need the same number of turkeys,” he said.
The Salvation Army and New London Kiwanis Club are also hosting a community Thanksgiving dinner at 5 p.m. on Tuesday. Vanover said the Salvation Army works to provide services year-round, but that the holiday season is when it receives the most donations.
“The Salvation Army used to have a motto that said, ‘Need knows no season,’ and that’s definitely true for us,” he said.
Horton said the food center also strives to keep a steady flow of donations through the year. She said the greatest demand comes in the summer, when children are not in school and unable to get meals there. However, the holiday drives make for a hectic couple of months.
“This is our busiest time of the year,” she said. “As soon as Thanksgiving is over we do a huge push for Christmas and holidays.”
Other organizations are also active in holiday food collection. The New London Police Union held their annual “pack the paddy wagon” food drive at ShopRite on Saturday to benefit the food center. The 2011 event collected 3,800 pounds of food. This year, the effort collected $1,261.10 in cash donations, 84 turkeys, and a total of 1,465 pounds of food.
The First Congregational Church will hold a Thanksgiving festival with games, face painting, and other activities at 5 p.m. on Tuesday. The Second Congregational Church has a dinner from noon to 3 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.
Tonight at 6 p.m., the St. Sophia Hellenic Orthodox Church is holding an interfaith Thanksgiving service and asking attendees to bring a donation of canned or non-perishable food. Five-year-old Hannah Dunn started up a collection for Hurricane Sandy victims, and donations for this effort may be dropped off through Tuesday at 778 Ocean Ave.
At the Winthrop School, students collected food for two weeks. Jerry Cave, a special education teacher at the school, said past collections typically collect 2,000 to 3,000 items for donation to the New London Area Food Pantry. The winning homeroom gets a pizza party with a raffle to award one student a bike.
“The kids are always very excited about it and they do very well with it,” said Cave.
Correction: the article originally stated that the First Congregational Church will host a community meal on Thanksgiving. The meal will take place at the Second Congregational Church.