For 141 Thanksgivings, The Bowery Mission has served holiday meals to New York’s most vulnerable.
But this year, rather than gathering in the chapel, diners collected their turkey, mashed potatoes, vegetables and pie in take-out containers and ate — socially distanced — under tents outside.
“We used to serve people indoors and now we package everything — hot meals — and serve it outside in the church area," said volunteer Gary Tsai. "So the operation, everything’s completely different; prepping, everything’s really different.”
The Lower Manhattan establishment has a storied tradition of sheltering and feeding those in need.
In a time of isolation, those with the mission have found community.
For regular volunteers, this Thanksgiving was a festive occasion with familiar faces — behind masks.
“You’d think it make it hard, but it kind of develops this energy that we’re all in this together and it’s all very difficult," said Alex Smith, a volunteer.
“Their mission of ‘treat every guest like a king,’ it stands true whether it’s a guest or whether it’s another volunteer or a fellow staff member, everybody here is just amazing," said volunteer Lindsay Calleran. "And it’s truly a New York institution.”
Dozens of volunteers and staff began cooking at 5 a.m. on Thanksgiving for the hundreds of guests expected to come through.
Several staff told NY1 they wanted to make the day special, having been in the shoes of those who find their struggles exacerbated by the COVID crisis.
“And I came to New York and I was sleeping on the subway train," director of outreach James Macklin said, continuing: “Look at these beautiful people. Look at the good food. I’ve been here 30 years, I’ve never seen a time when we couldn’t help those that are in need. I’m proud to be a part of the mission.”
“There was a time in my life I didn’t know when my next meal was coming, when I was going through a hard time," said executive chef Raffaele DePalma, "so everyone that works here, we just make sure that don’t feed nothing to no one that we wouldn’t eat ourselves.”
The Bowery Mission on Thanksgiving Day was expected to serve 1,350 meals.
That’s 450 turkeys, 2,000 pounds of potatoes, 500 pounds of vegetables.