‘Tis the season of giving—and with Thanksgiving just two days away, many communities have come together in the holiday spirit. In New Jersey, Mayor Ras J. Baraka of Newark and the Believe in Newark Foundation welcomed hundreds of volunteers to help with their annual turkey giveaway on Monday, November 25. “I feel really excited to help with such an amazing operation,” said Youth and Students for Peace (YSP) administrator Naria Gaarder, who brought 60 volunteers from the Peace Starts With Me movement. “This is a wonderful way to give back and make an impact.”
A sunny, brisk day, the hourslong operation involved shifts of 30 volunteers as early as 3 a.m., carting large crates into the John F. Kennedy Recreation Center, until about 7 p.m. when the last turkey was handed out for the day. The astounding volunteer turnout—more than ever before—was imperative for an unprecedented 8,000 turkeys, as well as side dishes including mashed potatoes, stuffing, beans, cranberry sauce, and more. “Turkeys are heavy,” said Gaarder. “We were lifting about 14 pounds.”
The fixings and mass poultry, initially expected to be 6,000, were generously donated by various sponsors, as truck after truck pulled alongside the center for dropoff. Organizers explained the step-by-step process of unboxing and bagging the food to groups of eager volunteers. While the turkey giveaway ensures people in need can celebrate Thanksgiving, it also has a ripple effect of strengthening community bonds. “Our community is really an extended family,” said 19-year-old Daniel Kurtowski, a volunteer from Peace Starts With Me. “And during this season of giving it’s great to give back to people in need.”
As scores of people walked through the doors, a jovial spirit flooded the center, with numerous families ready to take home their turkeys. Residents of Newark’s five wards had to pre-register for the giveaway and the line extended around the block. “I can feel the happiness of everybody,” said Jean Villar, a volunteer from Peace Starts With Me. “I feel honored to be a part of this kind of project. We’re so happy to be promoting peace through serving people.”
Mayor Baraka happily greeted community members in the afternoon as the bags of food were distributed. “A lot of people came together to make this happen,” he said. Mayor Baraka urged the community to continue the spirit of giving and pay it forward. “As you’re getting a blessing today, be a blessing to somebody else.”
The two-day event continues on Tuesday, November 26 for any remaining food to be given away.