The 3rd Annual “Give Thanks Bayonne,” held by a number of local non-profits and community organizations throughout the city, successfully provided hundreds of meals to families in need this past Thanksgiving.
The event was a collaborative effort by Black in Bayonne, The Bayonne Youth Center, Studio 31 Music School, Bayonne Batter, the Bayonne Police Department, BCB Community Bank, the Broadway Diner, Crafty Fox, Double Batch Bakery, DRIP Gelato and Cafe, the Hudson County Bar Association, Innovative Education Consulting Services, Joy Full Zone, The Little Food Cafe, My Orthodontist, Pride of Bayonne Lodge #461, Pride of Bayonne Temple #266, Provident Bank, The Rivera Family, ShopRite, Stephanie Barbi, and United We Change.
Co-founder of non-profit Black in Bayonne Camille High and President of the Bayonne Youth Center Angelique Jackson-Belle told the Bayonne Community News that “Give Thanks Bayonne” was incepted amid rampant food insecurity in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic and continues as more residents, in Bayonne and even Jersey City and Hoboken, grapple to feed themselves.
“When we sat down two years ago at The Bridge Art Gallery, we simply wanted to ensure that every family in Bayonne was able to have a Thanksgiving during a time of uncertainty,” High said.
“‘Give Thanks Bayonne’ was born out of the urgent need for food assistance which emerged over the last three years,” Jackson-Belle said. “As being of service whenever needs in the community arose was already a core tenet of the Bayonne Youth Center it was a natural progression for my sister Colette Jackson-Belle, the Bayonne Youth Center Board, and me to spearhead this collaborative initiative. Besides the satisfaction of helping out our neighbors, we find joy in the fellowship with other organizations and volunteers.”
Collecting donations throughout November
From November 7 to 16, the organizations held a food drive to support their giveaway efforts. Non-perishable items such as cranberry sauce, canned string beans, white rice, canned yams, canned mixed vegetables, canned corn, boxed mac and cheese, and cornbread were accepted at drop off locations including Provident Bank, DRIP Gelato and Cafe, and a certain classroom at Bayonne High School during the time period. In addition to food donations, the organizations were also accepting monetary donations to support the cause.
Following the food drive, and many volunteers organizing the food, it came time to give it away. On Saturday, November 19, “Give Thanks Bayonne” gave out nearly 400 meals at the Bayonne Youth Center at 524 Kennedy Boulevard utilizing the donations, the idea being to provide those in need with all the fixings to cook their own Thanksgiving Dinner.
“This year, at the Bayonne Youth Center’s annual uniform giveaway, we were able to distribute close to 500 uniforms. Thankfully, we were able to parlay the momentum from that initiative into ‘Give Thanks Bayonne,'” Jackson-Belle said. “While there were many nights of shopping for supplies, we were fortunate to have an outpouring of support from volunteers who pulled double duty by helping unload palettes of food and organize our Thanksgiving packages.”
In addition to the turkeys and other food, High said that “Give Thanks Bayonne” also handed out gift cards to those in need. According to Jackson-Belle, the volunteers from the different organizations were key to the operation: “This team effort allowed us to hand out 400 bags of food, host our first Community Feast, and provide 150 hot meals to the senior members of our community and displaced citizens on Thanksgiving day!”
Holding the first iteration of the Community Feast
This year, as COVID-19 has mostly subsided, the event expanded to include a Community Feast. Residents were invited to dine with each other on Tuesday, November 22 starting at 6 p.m. at the Bayonne Community Museum at 229 Broadway. Food was provided by The Little Food Cafe as well as Bayonne Batter.
“This year we added our a new edition to ‘Give Thanks Bayonne’ which is the Community Feast,” High said. “The Community Feast was for friends, neighbors and community members to sit down and dine together. Bayonne is a small town that can often feel so big. Bayonne is also a growing city with new members. We saw this as an opportunity for us to say ‘Hi.'”
This year, the organizations also wanted to emphasize helping the homeless and others facing food insecurity. That’s why on Thanksgiving Day, the organizations worked to provide meals to homeless people and seniors. The Bayonne Police Department gave out meal tickets to homeless residents to eat at the Bayonne Housing Authority apartments at 24 East 21st Street in the Community Room from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Meanwhile, “Give Thanks Bayonne” volunteers delivered meals to the elderly the morning of Thanksgiving. Between the two groups, 150 meals were served.
“Educating our volunteers on homelessness and food insecurity is also an essential component of ‘Give Thanks Bayonne,'” High said. “An estimated 800,000 residents within NJ are faced with food insecurity daily. Food insecurity is a lack of consistent access to enough food for active living. This makes food pantries like Hunger Free [Unity in the Community] imperative to the survival of so many within our neighborhood.”
Inclusivity, youth involvement, and feeding the elderly and displaced
High said that one thing the events focused on is being equitable to all. That’s why there are interpreters for multiple languages at the events, to ensure that everyone is understood.
“We take pride in our goals to also promote an understanding of and respect for diversity, equity, and inclusion for all residents in Bayonne,” High said. “Every year we provide interpreters ranging from Arabic, Chinese, and Spanish to close language gaps that are often seen at events such as these.”
In 2022, “Give Thanks Bayonne” also honed in on involving youth. Many clubs from Bayonne High School volunteered their time to help out with the food distributions, and will continue working with Black and Bayonne, the Bayonne Youth Center, and the other organizations in 2023.
“If you notice a lot of youth are volunteering. We’re excited about this because we hoped to have ignited a love for community and self for the youth,” High said. “We’ll be working with each of these groups throughout the remainder of the school year.”
‘Give Thanks Bayonne’ continues to grow
High and Jackson-Belle thanked all of the many generous organizations involved. They both specifically highlighted the youth who volunteered from clubs at Bayonne High School including Peer Leadership, the Young Black Excellence Club, and the LGBTQ+ and Allies Club, as well as the BHS Varsity Girls Basketball Team and students from Jersey City’s Joseph H. Brensinger School P.S. 17.
“A special thanks to all the collaborative organizations and businesses, especially: Black in Bayonne represented by Camille High; the Hudson County Bar Association represented by Executive Director Lisa Burke; and Kaitlyn Patella and the Bayonne High School Peer Leadership, Young Black Excellence Club, and LGBTQ+ and Allies Club,” Jackson-Belle concluded. “The Bayonne Youth Center is here to step in wherever we are needed, the same as we have done since 1945.”
High told the BCN the “Give Thanks Bayonne” events would undoubtedly continue next year. Given the rate at which the event is evolving, as well as Black in Bayonne and the Bayonne Youth Center and the other organizations involved, there will likely be even more offerings in 2023.
In addition to “Give Thanks Bayonne,” city officials also gave out their fair share of food for the Thanksgiving. Mayor James Davis and City Council members donated their annual 50 turkeys to Marie Pope of St Henry’s Roman Catholic Church at 82 West 29th Street on Monday, November 21.
On Tuesday, November 22, Assemblyman William Sampson and the Local International Longshoreman’s Association 1588 held their second annual Thanksgiving dinner giveaway at 550 Kennedy Boulevard. In addition to the traditional Thanksgiving food giveaways, the city had some other festive events for residents to participate in.
The city held it’s first-ever Turkey Trot 5K and 1 Mile Kids’ Fun Run on Thanksgiving Day, in hopes to replace the old Bayonne High School versus Marist High School football game that took place on the holiday every year until about 2001. In addition, there was the annual Thanksgiving Ring Toss, providing a festive atmosphere for the week of the holiday about giving thanks.
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.