From the Office on Conressman D0nald Norcross
Volunteers from the community join forces with elected officials and organized labor to prepare and serve Thanksgiving dinner to working but poor and homeless on Thanksgiving Day
Camden, NJ – Volunteers from the community will work with members of Organized Labor, City and County Officials, and Congressman Donald Norcross to prepare and serve a traditional Thanksgiving Dinner to upwards of 300 working but poor and homeless individuals and families at Cathedral Kitchen in Camden on Thanksgiving Day. In addition to providing a traditional Thanksgiving Dinner at the 20th Annual Thanksgiving Feastival the event will feature entertainment and activities for the children of families that are economically marginalized.
“When I was a union electrician our IBEW local 351 was committed to giving back to the community during the holiday seasons,” said Congressman Donald Norcross NJ-1. “I was serving on the Board of UOSS when we saw an opportunity to help working families that were struggling, residents wrestling with mental illness and the homeless on Thanksgiving Day by providing a traditional sit-down Thanksgiving Dinner — and that’s how the Thanksgiving Feastival was born.”
The Thanksgiving Feastival has been organized for the last 20 years by Union Organization for Social Service (UOSS) and is a partnership between UOSS, the Southern New Jersey AFL-CIO, the United Building Trades of South Jersey, Camden County, Camden City, South Jersey Transportation Authority, the Joy of Sox and Cathedral Kitchen.
“The event was originally conceived twenty years ago by Donald Norcross and Rachael Favella as a way to help people that would otherwise miss out on a traditional sit down style Thanksgiving Dinner celebration,” said Bob Schiavinato, President of UOSS. “It’s taken on a life of its own.”
Over 20 years the Thanksgiving Feastival has received support from Ravitz Shop-Rite, TGI Friday’s, the Silver Diner, United Way, Holman Enterprises, Suburu, Organized Labor and hundreds of volunteers. As word spread over the years the event evolved to include entertainment, distributing clothing and toys to children.
“After the great recession, it became difficult for commercial establishments to open their doors to UOSS and our partners, but Cathedral Kitchen offered to work with us. The UOSS Board was excited about using CK as a resource to keep Feastival alive, and they’ve proved to be a great partner. CK sees this as an extension of their work to be of service to the marginalized,” said Norcross.
Cathedral Kitchen is normally closed on Thanksgiving Day so the CK staff can enjoy the holiday with their families. The men and women that receive a hot meal at the congregate feeding center would be without
“We are really grateful to work with Chef Jonathan and his staff. Chef runs a culinary training program at Cathedral Kitchen that has launched many careers in the world of gastronomy,” said Schiavinato. “He has graduates that are working in high end restaurants in Atlantic City Casinos, Philadelphia and New York. So this isn’t your average ‘soup kitchen’. It’s progressive in its vision. Chef and his crew volunteer to prepare the food early Thanksgiving morning and then they turn everything over to the volunteers.”
In addition to collaborating with Cathedral Kitchen, Tom Costello, Jr., Executive Director of the Joy of Sox began partnering with UOSS in the effort. They donate one thousand pairs of socks that are distributed to guests and also volunteer at the event. The South Jersey Building Trades and Unions representing the Iron Workers, Laborers, Heavy Highway Constructors, Sheet Metal Workers, Elevator Constructors, Plumbers and Pipe Fitters, Electricians, Bricklayers, and Operating Engineers donate money and volunteer on Thanksgiving Day. Entertaining the guests are a troupe of clowns that have become regulars since the first year, balloon artists, face painters, and a photographer to take a portrait of individuals or families that want a remembrance of the celebration.
The event has become a popular volunteer service. “We’ve had to limit the number of volunteers to 75,” stated Joe Pillo, Chair of the UOSS Board and retired member of the Bricklayers Local 5. “If we don’t put a limit on the number of volunteers we’ll have more volunteers than people to serve. But it’s a great way for the community to come together to do something meaningful on Thanksgiving.”
“Twenty Thanksgivings is a long time and lot of turkey!” says Norcross. “On the one hand, it’s heartwarming to see the people who come out to volunteer, giving up most of their holiday to make these last 20 Thanksgivings a community celebration. On the other hand, I’m hoping and working toward a day when a Thanksgiving Feastival is no longer necessary — when conditions have improved, and we have a fair minimum wage and an economy that supports workers and the dignity of a living wage.”