Dozens of volunteers from the Irish community packed into the back room of the Aisling Irish Community Center in Yonkers on Monday, November 21 to prepare the annual Thanksgiving dinners for the homeless.
Now a tradition for nearly 12 years, the Irish Volunteers for the Homeless go that extra mile the week of Thanksgiving to help out the homeless of New York City and this year was no different.
Some 300 meals were prepared and packaged at the center on Monday. Over 50 volunteers, including the dozen or so regular volunteers that give up their time every Monday night to help out, spent hours deboning turkeys, preparing vegetables and packing bags.
Later that evening an additional 10 or so volunteers distributed the 300 meals to homeless men and women on the streets in Manhattan.
Volunteers this year varied in age. Alexa Wall, 11, whose dad is from Co. Dublin, told the Irish Voice in between packing food that she was more than happy to give up her free time to help out.
“I’m here to help the homeless because l feel people with less than me, the unfortunate ones, should have things to help them be comfortable,” she said.
It was Alexa’s 10-year-old friend Maeve Lavery (mom from Co. Armagh and dad from Co. Tyrone) who encouraged her classmates to help out on Monday.
“I’m not even here for service hours,” said Maeve, meaning she wasn’t trying to score points for school.
“I just want to be here to help out people that do not have homes and food on this special week.”
Longtime volunteer with the Irish homeless group, Seamus Smyth from Co. Longford, told the Irish Voice he enjoys helping out the city’s homeless.
“I’m retired so I have plenty of time on my hands. I worked about 50 or 60 years so I was itching for something to do and now I volunteer,” said Smyth, who now lives in Woodlawn in the Bronx.
Every Monday without fail Smyth shows up to make sandwiches. This past Monday he lent a hand getting the Thanksgiving dinners ready.
“I’m happy doing God’s work,” he said.
Without the help from the Local 3 Electrical Union this annual event would not be taking place.
Mike McMahon, shop steward in Local 3, is the man who organizes his workmates each year to help out. It’s these grown workmen who organize the 25-30 turkeys that are used to feed the homeless.
“Each year we bring the turkeys and canned goods for the Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners,” said McMahon.
“The men I work with are wonderful. If they can’t make it here on the day to help they do so in other ways like donating something.”
McMahon’s own family supplies a lot of the turkeys and various foods for the day.
“My own family is great too. They all help out each year I don’t even need to ask. I can really count on them,” he added.
“We just all love doing it, and I personally will be doing this till I’m done.”
As more turkeys and hams arrived at the center during the day, the young kids present queued up assembly line style to have the dinners served into tin containers ready for transportation into the city.
Each container included turkey, ham and a variety of vegetables. In a separate bag there was bread, butter, cranberry sauce and Irish chocolate.
As the aroma of food wafted out the doors of the center on Monday passers-by came in to see what was going on. Some even lent a hand on the spot.
Keeping organized at the front of the center was Mike Halloran from Co. Galway. His friend Donald Breen from Co. Kerry kept the show on the road at the back. The friends have been doing this for nearly 11 years and enjoy it very much.
“We enjoy it and this year like always is a great success,” said Halloran.
Elizabeth Donnelly from the Aisling Center told the Irish Voice that the day would not have been possible without the donations from local establishments.
“Without their support we would not be able to continue this great work,” said Donnelly.
Mary-Ellen Kelly, 10, dashed over from school at 2:40 p.m. to help out.
“I heard they needed help so I’m here to help those people who don’t have what I have,” said Mary-Ellen.
While the volunteers were busy at the Aisling Center getting ready to feed the homeless, other provisions were being put in place to organize a local dinner for those in the Irish community on Thursday.
Anyone who doesn’t have somewhere to go is encouraged to attend the Irish Thanksgiving dinner at St. Barnabas High School Cafeteria from 2 p.m. onwards. There will be a full dinner, football, cards and music. To date nearly 50 people have signed up.
RSVP at 914-374-8264 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Places must be reserved before November 24.