SAGINAW, MI — A downtown Saginaw business plans to host a free drive-thru Thanksgiving dinner for those in need later this month.
It comes at a time when food insecurity is growing across the region, according to area hunger relief agencies.
All are welcome to attend the event taking place from noon to 2 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 26, Thanksgiving Day, at dawn of a new day coffee house, 210 Washington Ave., said co-owner Linsey Morrell. Volunteers, who will wear masks and practice social distancing, will be ready and waiting outside to distribute a free hot turkey dinner, complete with mashed potatoes, roll, a vegetable and dessert, plus care packages for men, women and children. Recipients won’t have to leave their vehicles or provide any personal information.
“We just feel very fortunate for our business to still be successful during this time and for our health and this is just how we can give back to our community,” said Morrell, whose mother, Dawn Goodrow, opened the business in 2005.
“With there being a food desert on that side of town, it’s simply hard for people even just to go get groceries,” Morrell said. In addition, other free Thanksgiving meals are typically offered in the days leading up to but not on the actual holiday and the East Side Soup Kitchen is closed that day, as well, she said.
This year, the East Side Soup Kitchen is serving its Thanksgiving meal on Wednesday, Nov. 25, the day before the holiday, said Board President Diane Keenan. Its free Thanksgiving feast will include turkey, mashed potatoes, dressing, corn, cranberry sauce, pie and, like all of the soup kitchen’s meals since mid-March, it will be served in takeout containers, outside.
The soup kitchen began a curbside drive-thru and walk-up system in an effort to keep guests and volunteers safe during the pandemic. Its hours of operation also changed earlier this year. Instead of serving hot meals Monday through Friday, the soup kitchen has been offering hot lunches between 11 a.m. and noon on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. In addition, those who pick up a hot lunch on Monday and Wednesday are also sent home with a sack lunch for the following day. Guests also receive groceries and other household essentials when donations allow.
Keenan said she has “most definitely” seen an increased need for these services over the last several months. Prior to the pandemic, the soup kitchen served 250 to 300 people daily, now volunteers serve an average of 650 people each day. Demographics are shifting, too.
“We’ve noticed an increase in our senior citizens that are coming through, which is sad,” she said, noting that many of them are caring for and feeding their grandchildren in addition to themselves.
Keenan said some of the senior citizens they serve help their grandchildren with virtual learning when parents are at work, while others care for their grandchildren full time. One woman told her the soup kitchen allows her to eat a healthier diet than she could afford on her own because fruit and vegetables are too expensive.
Samantha McKenzie, president and CEO of Hidden Harvest, said the nonprofit’s partner agencies have seen an increased need since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March.
In 2018, an estimated 51,760 people in Saginaw, Bay and Midland counties were food insecure and, in 2019, 43% of Michigan households struggled to afford basic needs, including housing, food, transportation and child care, Keenan said. But even the latest data available is going to be out of date because of the pandemic.
Keenan, who volunteered at the soup kitchen before serving on the board, said she has never seen need like this before.
“This is a whole new set of circumstances,” she said.
Morrell said preparing and providing a community meal will serve as her family’s Thanksgiving celebration this year because they’re social distancing and won’t get together how they usually would. They’re prepared to feed about 300 people and all are welcome, regardless of their personal circumstances.
“COVID has really hurt a lot of people,” she said. “We’ve been actually very fortunate through COVID, a lot of small businesses struggled, we were very fortunate.”
Demand for free Thanksgiving meals in the city could be higher since The Savoy Bar and Grill, which normally serves several hundred people a free turkey dinner, is closed. The restaurant “decided to take a break,” according to a Facebook post dated April 13, the most recent activity on the page, and the business phone number is no longer active. Despite its own financial hardship, the Savoy prepared enough food to serve 700 people for Thanksgiving 2019, relying on donations and volunteers to help make it happen.
To help support its Thanksgiving event, dawn of a new day is accepting monetary donations, as well as donations of desserts and items for care packages, such as razors and shaving cream, shampoo, soap, washcloths, toothbrushes and toothpaste, feminine hygiene products, socks, gloves, hats, coloring books and crayons, and puzzles.
Although Hidden Harvest is not affiliated with dawn of a new day or its Thanksgiving event, McKenzie said “it is very generous when area businesses lend a hand around the holidays.”
“Our plan is to support the nonprofit agencies we partner with, like Samaritas Community Center, East Side Soup Kitchen and Old Town Christian Outreach, who each typically have amazing holiday meals,” she said.
How to give and receive help
If you are in need of emergency food, dial 2-1-1, or use this interactive map from the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan to find food pantries and community kitchens in your area.
Hidden Harvest and the East Side Soup Kitchen are accepting donations. Visit hiddenharvestshares.org and www.eastsidesoupkitchen.org to see how you can help.
Hidden Harvest supplies more than 2.5 million pounds of donated food, free of charge, to recipient agencies in and around Saginaw, Bay City and Midland annually.
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