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South River Food Bank, Ss. Peter and Paul Church, Ria Mar to co-host annual Thanksgiving dinner

SOUTH RIVER–Providing a hot meal for residents in need, the South River Food Bank and Ss. Peter and Paul Church will serve as the co-hosts to the sixth annual South River Community Thanksgiving Dinner.

In partnership with the Ria Mar Restaurant and Bar and Green Construction, the annual dinner will take place from noon to 2 p.m. on Nov. 28 in the church hall, 9 Jeffrie Ave., according to information provided by the South River Food Bank.

If someone lives in South River and is in need of a hot cooked Thanksgiving meal for themselves and their family, then join us between, according to information provided by the food bank.

Ss. Peter and Paul Church Rev. David Garretson said, “Well, the origin of the Thanksgiving dinner was during [Superstorm] Sandy. There was flooding at the South River Food Bank, so we moved the food bank into our hall and that was eight years ago. So what we did, because there was still a lot of people that did not have a place for Thanksgiving, we [helped] start the Thanksgiving dinner after Sandy and we just kept doing it.”

Dinner will be served at 12:30 p.m. and a take-out option will be available.

Garretson said the people who organized the dinner back in 2012 were South River Food Bank Supervisor Beth Lukacs and Ss. Peter and Paul parishioner Paul Zelanko.

“Lukacs and Zelanko was the driving force. Zelanko has since died, but Lukacs is still very active in it and there are parishioners that are still active in it,” Garretson said. “So we just continue that as part of our community outreach ministry.”

Lukacs said the mission of the food bank is to assist members of the community who are struggling to close the gap in their monthly food budget.

“To accomplish our mission we distribute food on a monthly basis and provide nutrition education and information on additional resources that are available in our local area,” Lukacs said. “Our Connections program includes bi-monthly visits from the St. Peter’s Community Health nurses, monthly visits from the Elijah’s Promise HEART team, and monthly nutritional lessons from SNAP-Ed. We also provide additional assistance to our families with children through our summer lunch, school supplies, diaper and holiday toy programs.”

After the food bank was displaced in 2012, Lukacs said that the food bank began operating out of the church.

“A main focus of our work at that time was reaching out to residents who were also displaced by the storm.  Rui Baptista, one of the owners of the Ria Mar, offered to provide a Thanksgiving dinner for these residents,” Lukacs said. “Thanks to Ss. Peter and Paul church we had the space to hold it. When this dinner became an annual community event, Carlos Santos of Green Construction joined the collaboration by contributing toward the Ria Mar expenses for the dinner.”

Lukacs said members of the South River Fire Department are also an important part of this collaboration as they have helped set up, serve and clean up every year for the last eight years.

“Baptista and members of his staff volunteer their time on Thanksgiving morning to cook a feast which not only includes all of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner items [including] turkey, potatoes, stuffing, vegetables, rolls, cranberry sauce, salad and desserts, but also includes a variety of additional pork, chicken, shrimp and beef dishes,” Lukacs said.

Lukacs said that this year will be the eighth year the entire feast has been completely donated by the Ria Mar and Green Construction.

“Providing a traditional Thanksgiving dinner can be an overwhelming expense for many of our food bank families,” Lukacs said. “Additionally, many of our food bank clients live alone. This community Thanksgiving dinner is an opportunity for us to meet the needs of these clients.”

Garretson said they expect more than 140 guests to attend the dinner.

The best way residents can show their support towards this dinner, Garretson said, is to “make a donation either in non-perishable food or in cash to the South River Food Bank. The food for the meal is donated by the Ria Mar and we usually have, between our parish and the community, we have more than enough volunteers to staff it. So the best thing to do instead of just doing something for Thanksgiving is because people have need year-round would be to make a donation to the South River Food Bank.”

The food bank is located at 98 Jackson St. and is open from 10 a.m. until noon every Wednesday and the first two Saturdays of the month, unless the building is closed due to weather or scheduled holidays.

Residents must RSVP in order to attend the dinner no later than Nov. 21. To register, speak with a South River Food Bank staff member or call 732-238-3020.

For more information about the South River Food Bank, visit www.southrivernj.org/foodbank/.

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