Max Schulte | WXXI News

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.


A local turkey farmer and Alfred University have combined forces to make Thanksgiving a little brighter for staff at that Southern Tier college.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted many of us in different ways, and for Travis Mattison, who owns Ridgecrest Turkey Farm in Brockport, it has put a deep dent in what would normally be one of the busiest times of the year.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

On Thursday, Monroe County reported 373 new cases of coronavirus, an all-time high for new daily cases. County officials warn that numbers could rise even more if people are not careful around Thanksgiving.

The holiday is next week, and the debate over enforcing how many people can gather in a home has been a hot topic.

What are your plans for Thanksgiving? As the COVID-19 infection rate rises both locally and across the country, families are weighing how to handle the holiday. Some families are starting new traditions with food drop offs and virtual gatherings. Others are scaling down their get-togethers to adhere to Governor Cuomo's mandate that limits indoor gatherings to 10 people. The decisions can come with stress, or even conflict, when families disagree about approaches.

WXXI reporters Noelle Evans and April Franklin spoke with a number of people in the community about the wide range of ideas for how to gather - or not gather - for Thanksgiving. They share their reporting. We're also joined by Dr. Eric Caine, who helps us understand how to navigate the emotions that come with a pandemic holiday. Our guests:

  • Eric Caine, M.D., former chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center
  • Noelle Evans, reporter/producer for WXXI News
  • April Franklin, reporter and Weekend Edition host for WXXI News

Alex Turner

Family gatherings at Thanksgiving are a tradition, but with the coronavirus pandemic, they can also be risky.

Some local families are finding ways around that. Alex Turner’s family has a new ritual.

“We just set up a video call, set the computer up somewhere in the kitchen, and then we cook and we talk and we lift up the plate to the camera and say, 'Is this about how it’s supposed to look?' ” Turner said.

U.S. General Services Administration

As new social media networks continue to emerge, and the number of people using them continues to rise -- TikTok added more than 500 million users this year -- they've begun to affect how people spend the holidays.

Mike Johansson, a principal lecturer at the Rochester Institute of Technology’s school of communication, said virtual communities can be a threat to real-life experiences.

What are local students learning about Thanksgiving? What’s often published in textbooks and taught in schools is a Euro-centric narrative that oversimplifies or omits the historical record, especially when it comes to atrocities endured by Native American people.

WXXI reporter Noelle Evans talked with local Native Americans and school staff members about Thanksgiving education. This hour, we talk about what she learned, and our guests discuss how to decolonize the Thanksgiving narrative. In studio:

  • Noelle Evans, reporter for WXXI News
  • Peter Jemison, historic site manager for Ganondagan
  • Amerique Wilson, library media specialist at Roberto Clemente School 8
  • Stephen LaMorte, executive director of social studies and community service learning at the Rochester City School District

freeimages.com/Willie Cloete

If tofurkey or other plant-based foods make up your main course on Thursday, you may be surprised to learn just how long vegetarians have been eating an alternative Thanksgiving dinner.

The Thanksgiving meal has been a lightning rod event for vegetarians for centuries. 

"And it's for two reasons," explained Cornell food historian Adrienne Rose Bitar. "Not only how important meat is to the meal, but also for celebrational gluttony."

The first American vegetarians date back to the 19th century. Many of them were motivated by religious beliefs.

Noelle E. C. Evans / WXXI News

If you look at a public school textbook, chances are you won't see much written from Native American perspectives. As Thanksgiving approaches, librarian Amerique Wilson at Roberto Clemente Elementary School 8 in the Rochester City School District attempts to address that.

Instead of teaching Thanksgiving from a textbook, she's working from a speech written by the late Wamsutta Frank B. James, a Wampanoag Native American activist.

Element5 Digital

As Sharon Yates cut and plated pumpkin pie slices for a free weekly meal served by Trillium Health at the organization’s Rochester headquarters, she reflected that this one might be especially important. It was the day before Thanksgiving.

“Particularly on a holiday there might be people who don’t have family or friends they can go to, so we try to make this festive and a good occasion for them to be here,” Yates said.

And while that’s good for people who are looking for a hot meal or a communal gathering, not everyone wants to spend Thanksgiving around a crowded table, mental health experts say.

“It’s something that can be very confusing when the broader social conversation and media conversation is, ‘Who are you going to be with on Thanksgiving?’” said Chacku Mathai, CEO of the Mental Health Association of Rochester.