It was the biggest day of the year at the Bowery Mission yesterday. The 136-year-old Lower East Side institution served thousands of meals for Thanksgiving at both the historic flagship building in this neighborhood and at locations throughout New York City.
When we stopped by just before the last seating at 5 p.m., about 1300 people had partaken in the holiday tradition. For chef Gretchen Roth, it was her first Thanksgiving in charge of the kitchen. In the past week, she led a team of volunteers from North Carolina and Ohio who roasted and hand carved 650 turkeys. They also cooked 8,000 pounds of potatoes, 3,000 pounds of vegetables and baked 500 pies. “It takes an army,” said Roth. “For five days, 24/7 our ovens do not go off.” Back in the kitchen, Trevor Mathura showed us the supplies of potatoes and other holiday fixins’. The walk-in refridgerator was still well-stocked.
David Jones, Bowery Mission CEO, was experiencing his first Thanksgiving in charge of the organization. He has just been on the job since this past spring. The institution is gearing up for what’s expected to be a tough winter. In the past year, of course, the problem of homelessness has risen to the top of the city’s political agenda. “If you, like me, have walked the streets of Manhattan over the last number of months,” he explained, “you feel some fear. There are people out there (on the streets) because there is a capacity issue in shelters.” But Jones said the mission remains determined to keep its doors open to anyone in need. “Come for dinner,” he said. “If you’re here for dinner, you can stay the night. It might not always be the most comfortable. But we’d prefer you be inside where it’s warm rather than outside where it can be quite dangerous.”
Volunteers were on hand yesterday from all over the city and throughout the country. We spoke with Brooklyn resident Amelia Vogler, who is a regular volunteer at the mission through her church. “Thanksgiving is great time to give back,” she explained while waiting to fill up the last plates of the day. Cecilia Knape and Rose Maslar came all the way from Texas. They were in the region to celebrate with family in Pennsylvania. Volunteering at the mission, along with watching the Thanksgiving Day Parade, became part of their holiday traditions. “I read about the Bowery Mission on the internet and I wanted to come here to do my part,” said Masler.
Every year, the volunteer slots for Thanksgiving fill up quickly. But there are opportuities to help out at the Bowery Mission all year long. Click here for more info.