Giving Back on Thanksgiving

Bob Reddy – Florida Catholic


Two parishes in the Diocese of Venice took the idea of Thanksgiving to another level this year by giving back to help others.

St. John the Evangelist Parish in Naples took over the long-running Thanksgiving in the Park in Immokalee, where approximately 1,500 people were fed a hot meal on Thanksgiving Day. Meanwhile, Thanksgiving was a day of rest for the volunteers who helped at the St. Joseph Parish Food Bank in Bradenton, which handed out more than 1,300 bags of food to the needy in the area.

Volunteers from St. John the Evangelist Parish in Naples fed about 1,500 people during Thanksgiving in the Park in Immokalee. Here Pastor Father John Ludden (in blue) and Parochial Vicar Father Bob Murphy (in gray) hand out the prepared hot meals.

St. John the Evangelist and of the faithful within the Diocese of Venice. While not all parishes served hot meals or packed bags of food, much was done to help this Thanksgiving.

For the people in Naples, the idea of giving back was especially poignant because they were helping their brothers and sisters in Christ who were severely impacted by Hurricane Irma on Sept. 10. In Immokalee the hurricane left in its wake many homes damaged and farms decimated while also throwing many out of work. Meanwhile the Church and other buildings of St. John the Evangelist had damage and the surrounding area saw suffering as well.

Volunteers from St. John the Evangelist Parish in Naples prepare hot food for about 1,500 people during Thanksgiving in the Park in Immokalee.

St. John Pastor Father John Ludden said the day is about seeing the face of Christ in others and seeing the dignity in them while taking a small action to help in a specific way. “It is the faces we see that make the hard work pay off. The reward is knowing we are making a difference.”

Magdalena Ramirez said the hot food was great, as her 3-year-old son Pedro focused on eating and playing with his pie. “These people making the food are a blessing. It has been a struggle for so many since the hurricane. This is a chance to forget about that for a few hours.”

More than 120 volunteers helped on Thanksgiving Day with cooking and serving the meals while many others helped in the preparation during the days leading up to the hot meal. Father Ludden blessed the meal, the people of Immokalee and the volunteers. Then he and Parochial Vicar Father Bob Murphy handed out the meals of turkey, mashed potatoes, and green beans. About 200 turkeys and nearly 200 pies were donated for the cause. Some 175 meals were also delivered to the home bound in the area.

At St. Joseph Parish the work to hand out more than 1,300 loaded bags of food in three days started well in advanced, explained Food Pantry co-Director Patricia O’Driscoll. “This a huge effort with the parish and community coming together to bring a little happiness into the lives of people at Thanksgiving.”

Sara Walsh said the food she received is welcomed as she is unable to work because of ongoing health issues. “I’m not sure what my Thanksgiving would have been like without this. It is so wonderful to know that people care for someone like me.”

The Thanksgiving week distribution targets families … and individuals who previously have received food from the St. Joseph Food Pantry throughout the year when more than 500,000 pounds of food is distributed to thousands of individuals and families throughout the year, O’Driscoll explained.

Each bag is provided based on the size of the household, with a minimum of a canned ham, breads, dessert and other holiday fare. Due to the limited quantities, turkeys were provided to only larger families.

O’Driscoll said the Thanksgiving effort is made possible through the generosity of the parishioners of St. Joseph Parish, with the support of other parishes in Manatee County and other donors.

One final example of people helping others in need comes from Young Vincentians from Cardinal Mooney High School in Sarasota. Thanksgiving Week, the group delivered more than 1,300 pounds of food and $1,000 to Bethesda House, a Sarasota Catholic Charities program for people impacted by HIV/AIDS. The program provides a number of support services including helping the clients receive critical nutritional support.