Community organizations that feed Marin’s homeless and underprivileged residents are making last-minute preparations for their first — and hopefully last — pandemic Thanksgiving.
“We do outreach to the community to get donations so we are able to provide turkey and all the fixings to families in Marin County,” said Mark Shotwell, director of Ritter Center in San Rafael. “It’s a great collaborative effort.”
Shotwell said some things have remained the same despite the coronavirus pandemic. For example, it has become a holiday tradition for the San Rafael Police Department and the Marin County Sheriff’s Office to compete to see which agency can donate the most turkeys.
Shotwell said United Markets, Nugget Markets, Good Earth Natural Foods and ExtraFood.org have all chipped in with additional donations for the holiday season.
“We also have relationships with a number of different faith-based groups and other community groups who help to put together the food bags,” Shotwell said. “It’s exciting to be part of an effort like this any year and especially in a year that has been as hard as 2020.”
Shotwell said for people who are homeless or out of work and struggling the holidays can be a sad time, “a time when their lack of resources and the challenges they face are highlighted even more.”
So far, 105 families — about 20% more than last year — have signed up to get a Thanksgiving food bag, which will include a fresh turkey, stuffing, fresh vegetables and a pie.
“So their family is able to go home and cook a really wonderful meal,” Shotwell said.
He said for some people who are trying to put any food on their family’s table while paying their rent and keeping gas in their car, a Thanksgiving meal can seem like a luxury.
“But we don’t see it as a luxury,” Shotwell said. “We see it as something that everybody deserves to participate in. It’s an issue of equity.”
Shotwell said that with only days left before the distribution of food will begin, Ritter Center is most in need of cash donations so it can purchase the items it is lacking. Donations can be made at the nonprofit’s website at RitterCenter.org.
Any extra food or donations will be used to sustain Ritter Center’s year round effort to feed Marin’s homeless and economically disadvantaged residents. Ritter Center operates a food pantry from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Shotwell said attendance at the pantry ranges from 250 to 500 people per week, up 40% to 50% since the pandemic began.
The annual Thanksgiving dinner at the St. Vincent de Paul Society Dining Room will be a little less festive this year. Instead of the typical meal in the dining room, which featured live music, brightly decorated tables and plenty of helpful volunteers, diners will pick up their meals in to-go boxes.
“A lot of our volunteers are older and we don’t want to expose anyone to the risk,” said Christine Paquette, executive director of the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Marin. “We don’t eat in our dining room. Our staff comes in on a staggered schedule. We’re just determined to make sure no one gets COVID.”
Regarding St. Vincent’s food needs, Paquette said, “We always need turkeys. We use them Thanksgiving day, but we also freeze them and use them throughout the year as our primary protein source.”
Donations are be made online at Vinnies.org.