Food / Religion

Thanksgiving celebration feeds hundreds

Natalie Lally

A line formed as guests came to celebrate Thanksgiving at The Point with a scrumptious holiday meal.

Real Life Church holds fifth annual feast at The Point

How many pounds of food does it take to feed a community on Thanksgiving? At The Point last month, the magic number was 800 – measured in slices of turkey, dollops of mashed potatoes and piles of mixed vegetables — all of it served by nearly 150 volunteers who delivered each meal to the table.

“I want people to feel like they’re being served,” said Pastor Reggie Stutzman, whose Real Life Church hosted its fifth annual celebration at The Point on Thanksgiving Day. Usually a community room for after school programs, on this day the Point’s main space was converted into a restaurant, complete with purple tablecloths and the smell of pumpkin pie.

The church partnered with The Bowery Mission, who supplied the food, and The Point’s Bascom Catering, who prepared it, to serve 800 members of the community not just dinner, but also desserts, clothes and toiletries. Stutzman and his wife, Ibelsa, organized the event.

 

A large crowd began to gather on Manida Street before 11 a.m., eagerly awaiting The Point to open its doors. Juan Perez, an active volunteer for the church, greeted people in line with a friendly smile and helped guide them to their seats, while Stutzman introduced himself to each diner one by one.

“I feel happy that God has blessed us to reach out to people,” Perez said.

When everyone was seated across the room, Stutzman led the community in prayer, and the feast began.

Heaping trays of food were being brought out of the kitchen. As volunteers distributed plates piled high with turkey, mashed potatoes smothered in gravy, stuffing, cranberries and sweet potatoes, none of the guests had to lift a single finger on Thanksgiving Day.

“I like to give to others before I serve myself,” said Ana Perez, the hospitality leader at Real Life Church and a volunteer for the event since it started five years ago.  “This is what Thanksgiving is all about.”

Cynthia Ramos and Peter Ruiz could not recall the last time a hot meal was served to them. They were among the many diners who enjoyed the meal so much, they left with seconds. “I should have brought my shopping bag,” joked Ruiz.

The Stutzmans, whose church holds services at the Hunts Point Recreational Center at 765 Manida St. every Sunday at 11 a.m., came to Hunts Point to serve the community to the best of their ability, and to help people in need.

“This community is filled with homelessness, prostitution, and gangs,” said Ibelsa Stutzman. “We partnered with The Point to serve a community that really is in desperate need.”

Vincent Rosario Sr. recently moved from Massachusetts to Hunts Point with his four children. As a single father, he said, it is up to him to prepare dinner every night. Thanks to the church, he got a break this one night and got some quality time with his family on Thanksgiving.

“I cook everything at home,” said Rosario. “It’s nice to have some freedom.”

Assemblyman Marcos Crespo presented Stutzman with a citation from the New York State Assembly, recognizing all of the hard work being done each year by Real Life Church. He also said he would help the church secure its own space.

Natalie Lally

The Harvest Church of New York performs holiday songs.

To accompany the meals, volunteers played the guitar and sang and encouraged diners to join in. There was also a 14-piece orchestra from Harvest Church of New York in Douglaston, Queens, which played Christmas songs to bring everyone some holiday cheer.

Freddy Rivera, who was born and raised in Hunts Point, recently traveled back from his home in North Carolina to care for his ill mother during the holidays. This is his first time attending this event, and he was moved by the number of volunteers who sacrificed their holiday to give others a memorable Thanksgiving experience.

“This is a great thing that they’re doing,” said Rivera. “I always said that there is nothing stronger than the heart of a volunteer.”

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