Turkey Giveaway - Nov 2023
Photo Credit: Syracuse Crunch

Not only is Syracuse located in the heart of New York State, but Syracuse unquestionably has heart. For as long as I’ve lived here, I’ve been impressed with the ways that we continue to “show up” for one another. That characteristic is one of the reasons why I’m so proud to call Syracuse my home. For me, the holiday season – starting with Thanksgiving – brings this concept into focus to put the idea of community and community spirit on display.

When I think about “community” and examples of things that bring people together, food always plays a big role. This time of year, the spotlight tends to shine brightest on the turkey and the array of side dishes associated with Thanksgiving. Being mindful that there are families in Syracuse who don’t know where their next meal will come from – especially in neighborhoods that don’t have grocery stores within walking distance and are considered food deserts – it was important to me to support neighbors in need by donating to multiple community-focused Turkey Giveaway events.

Living in such a caring community, there are a variety of programs and initiatives dedicated to helping the hungry. I wish we could highlight them all. Two efforts in particular stood out to me this season, each tugging on my heartstrings for different reasons:

InterFaith Works Turkey Giveaway: For the third year in a row, InterFaith Works led a Turkey Giveaway on the Southside – not far from where I grew up. In addition to the donation that I was honored to contribute, the organization partnered with the NAACP of Onondaga County, The Joe Family Foundation for Disability Advocacy, and The Health Education Project to feed local families. Over the course of two hours on Friday November 17, neighbors came to the Pentecost Evangelical Missionary Baptist Church and hundreds of turkeys were distributed.

But InterFaith Works does so much more than provide turkeys for Thanksgiving. This is just one piece of their year-round Food Justice Initiative Program. Established in 2020 to address food insecurity in some of our city’s most impoverished neighborhoods, InterFaith Works started by delivering milk to churches, mosques, and New American organizations. Then, it expanded to bring meat, produce, and dairy. By delivering fresh food as well as culturally appropriate foods, InterFaith Works helps to fill gaps in a way that demonstrates the possibilities for lifting up whole communities when multiple people and organizations work together.

ED23HOOPS Turkey Giveaway: The next day, on Saturday November 18, ED23HOOPS, Empire Orange Publishing and The Hart and Tay Train Foundation partnered to hold a Turkey Dinner Giveaway at Wilson Park. ED23HOOPS is led by my friend Eric Devendorf, a former SU Orange basketball star, and started its tradition of hosting a Thanksgiving Turkey Giveaway at the back of the Syracuse Rescue Mission. That first year, he gave away about 100 to 150 turkeys. Six years later, that number has tripled! More than 450 families will have a meal on their tables this Thanksgiving thanks to the efforts of Devendorf and team.

Just as food brings people together, sporting events do too. What I love about both – communities and team sports – is the camaraderie. I thought it was so energizing to see that members of our AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, stopped by to help at the ED23HOOPS Turkey Giveaway too!

The Thanksgiving season brings into focus the idea that with all of the complications in the world, there is still simplicity in the ways that we can come together to build community and support our neighbors.

At their core, communities are places where people connect, feel safe, and “at home.” I have always believed that investing in people is important to building and maintaining a strong community. We thrive in spaces where we feel like we are valued and belong.  My hope is that this season brings comfort in fullness, connection, and camaraderie to as many neighbors as possible.

Wishing you all the happiest Thanksgiving season, where you feel supported and where you can support others.

Be well!