On Saturday, Becky Genese planned to spend most of the day in her Jersey City kitchen cooking food to take to her sister’s house on Thanksgiving afternoon. She planned to get the cooking for her family out of the way early, she said, so that she can spend a portion of her day volunteering her time Thursday morning serving Thanksgiving Day dinner to the homeless at her church in New York City.
“I’ve been doing this for about six years or so,” said Genese, a resident of the Hamilton Park area. “It may seem a little odd spending six hours on a holiday feeding a group of strangers. But I actually enjoy it.”
A native of Oregon who attended New York University for college and graduate school, Genese said she first volunteered her holiday time to feeding the needy while an undergraduate.
“Most years, I could only afford to go home for either Thanksgiving or Christmas,” she explained. “I couldn’t go home for both holidays. Christmas is really big in my family and I had several weeks off from school. So, most years that was the holiday I went home for. I’d stay on the east coast for Thanksgiving. And I’d usually spend it with a friend and her family.”
Genese will cook five pans of macaroni and cheese.
“I don’t recall being very enthusiastic about it,” Genese said. “But when in Rome…”
To her surprise, she said she had a great time and felt a “real sense of joy” volunteering that day. This ultimately led to ongoing volunteer work with homeless and sheltered populations throughout New York. Later, she began volunteering at the soup kitchen offered through her lower Manhattan church and continues to give of her time year-round, even though she has since moved to New Jersey.
Genese, now a married mother of two, said she will cook five pans of macaroni and cheese – two for her family, and three for the guests at the soup kitchen. She’ll truck the soup kitchen pans over to Manhattan at around 10 a.m. Thursday, in plenty of time for the church’s noon supper for the homeless. She is probably among hundreds of Hudson County residents who will volunteer their time this week to charity organizations and faith-based institutions.
“Before I had my kids, I also used to volunteer on Christmas Day,” she said. “Of course everybody wants to spend those special days with their families. I do, too. And I spend most of the holidays with my family. But if you give just a couple hours to a soup kitchen or shelter, you see how many people don’t have food, don’t have families… It means so much to them to have their sense of community restored. I’ve had people tell me that it gives them back a sense of dignity and humanity…It’s something people can lose living on the streets. That’s something I hadn’t really thought about before. I already feel pretty connected to our clients at my church. But working the soup kitchen, especially during the holidays, also somehow gives something back to me, too.”
To find places to volunteer this Thanksgiving, see “Hungry? Or want to help?” on cover.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.