Over a thousand volunteers came out Thanksgiving morning to cook, package and deliver 937 meals to homebound residents of 12 Ocean County towns, then serve hundreds more in a community dinner where those who might not have another place to go can feel at home.
The turkey dinners, with all the trimmings, were delivered by volunteers in bags brightly decorated by local children and packaged by even more volunteers at Epiphany Roman Catholic Church in the township’s Herbertsville section.
It’s the 16th year for the massive Thanksgiving Day effort and, as it has every year since it began, expanded its reach once again in 2014.
This year, the group – led by organizers Sue and Bob Hermida, of Brick – delivered meals to residents of Brick, Point Pleasant Beach, Point Pleasant Borough, Mantoloking, Bay Head, South Seaside Park, Bay Head, Lakewood, Jackson, Toms River and Manchester. The 2014 edition of what has become one of the largest Thanksgiving meal distributions of its kind marks the 10th year that the church has partnered with Ocean County Meals on Wheels to refer its homebound clients, and since then has added Meridian nursing, local senior communities and Brick’s St. Paul’s United Methodist Church to its referring groups.
“We cast a very wide net in the community to get referrals from agencies and organizations of individuals who are in need,” said Jay Sigurdson, executive director of Ocean County Meals on Wheels, who was at Epiphany helping to coordinate the volunteers.
Those in the local community who are homebound or economically unable to afford Thanksgiving dinner were among this year’s meal recipients, plus those affiliated with organizations such as Dottie’s House, a shelter for women and children who are victims of abuse.
“Every single year we try to expand our outreach in the community,” said Sigurdson. “This church truly becomes the hands of Christ to feed this community and the communities around it.”
Tony Capoano, a volunteer from Brick, arrived at the church at 9 a.m. Thursday and, by 11 a.m., was part of an assembly line of people handing out bags of food to other volunteers in cars ready to deliver them far and wide.
“Very busy,” he said, adding that the effort to cook all the food started with a night crew Wednesday.
“These people really are a family,” said Sigurdson. “That’s why this program is so successful, because these people actually know the need that exists in the community, they know the call of Christ … and they take that ministry seriously.”