It is time to start getting excited about Thanksgiving. I start early -- it is my favorite holiday, bar none: a time when your main task is to make a wonderful meal and enjoy it with your family and friends. Church duties are not particularly onerous on Thanksgiving, and we sing a few hymns on that day that we don't sing at any other time: "Come, Ye Thankful People, Come" and "We Gather Together to ask the Lord's Blessing." We think about our country on Thanksgiving, its mythic past, and we go there for a few hours, as if we were all descended from the pilgrims, when in fact hardly any of us are. A Native American man from the neighborhood used to send over bags of groveries for the poor onThanksgiving Day, his own quiet reminder that the Anglo remembrance of that day is not everybody's remembrance.
I miss 46th Street immensely at Thanksgiving. St.Clement's prepares and serves a wonderful meal for the families of the neighborhood: food pantry guests, elderly neighbors, mothers with large broods of children. The parish hall fills and refills with people several times over the course of the meal, and volunteers come out of the woodwork to help serve the food.
"How's the food pantry these days?" I asked Seth when I stopped by one day to say hello.
He shook his head. "625 this past week." I couldn't believe my hears. "625?" There were about 80 a week when I came to St.Clement's in 1996. The numbers grew steadily, and since the 11th of September, 2001, they have grown astronomically. Many of our neigbors were restaurant workers, and restaurants have suffered terribly.
"Sometimes we run out of food. Or we have to cut back on the amount we give each person." Poor Seth. It's hard to run out when a person in need of food is standing right in front of you, to say "Sorry, that's all there is this week." Some of the desperate people get angry, and take it out on Seth. Mostly they understand, though, and their desperation is quiet. Maybe that's even harder.
So the runup to Thanksgiving is usually a help, and this year it will be a lifesaver: as hard a year as this has been, people remember that there are others less fortunate than they are, and they want to feed them. Cans of everything appear at St.Clement's, mountains of turkeys, cases of fresh fruit and vegetables. Other churches give St.Clement's their overflow. The fire stations usually take up a collection of food,and a couple of the unions. And St. Clement's accepts everything. It will go out the same door it came in very quickly. God is very good all the time, but people mirror that goodness at Thanksgiving.
Get excited about your Thanksgiving dinner early. Why confine the delight to one day? Polish your silver and admire your dishes. Count napkins. Buy candles. Flowers. Make pies. And don't forget to help someone help others on that day when we stop and thank God for all we have. Life is hard, but God is good. Nun danket.
If you'd like to help St. Clement's manage this heaviest-ever burden on its food pantry this year, drop some non-perishable food by the church any week day during business hours, and get the people in your building or at work to do it, too. Or send them a check: St. Clement's Food Pantry, 423 West 46th Street, New York, NY 08840.