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Open Door Mission and Dimitri House keep Thanksgiving traditions going

Max Schulte | WXXI News
Kathy Herendeen and Patrick Barr load the truck of a car making deliveries to families in need of food for Thanksgiving.

For those who are homeless or impoverished, Thanksgiving can often be a difficult time regardless of a pandemic. Local organizations helping those in need have found ways to share the feast while abiding by social distancing guidelines.

At the Open Door Mission, Thanksgiving dinner will be served in two ways. As a curbside pick-up for those passing through, and as a sit-down dinner for those staying at the shelter.

“It means a lot to be able to come up with ways to make people feel connected even though things look a little different,” said Anna Valeria-Iseman, executive director of Open Door Mission.

Anyone is welcome to collect a dinner plate for themselves or for their family, she said. However, while the pick-up option gets food to people, she said it doesn’t necessarily fulfill the need for connection.

Whether someone is grappling with addiction, homelessness, or their mental wellness, she says she often hears from people that the most difficult part of the holidays is the isolation and loneliness.

Credit Max Schulte | WXXI News
As fast as boxes are packed cars arrive to pick up meals for Thanksgiving.

“Around the holidays, more than ever, people want to feel connected.” Valeria-Iseman said. “So that’s why we see a lot of people who come to have Thanksgiving with us who have a home, who have a place to be but because they don’t have anyone to be with they come and share that meal with us.”

Open Door Mission also plans to distribute donations to food pantries and churches.

Dimitri House is adapting to the demands of the season and the risks of the pandemic, too. Laurie Prizel said that previously they’ve had an adopt-a-family approach, where one family would share their feast with another. 

Credit Max Schulte | WXXI News
Gene Renner and Kathy Herendeen work on loading boxes with dry and canned good need to make a Thanksgiving meal.

Now, they are offering Thanksgiving dinner supplies for people to pick up ahead of the holiday. Prizel says that she’s noticing more requests from people who are working two or three jobs.

“They’re really struggling making the ends meet let alone spend $100 or more on a holiday meal,” said Prizel. “So, this year has been a lot more working poor.”

Dimitri House expects to serve more than 200 people this Thanksgiving, but for Prizel, it’s also about meeting demand year-round. Since the first week of the pandemic, she said that she has seen demand for food assistance double at their food cupboard.

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