Groups donate time to host Thankful Souls Community Dinner

Photo by Chris Sykes
Ampere Civic Improvement Association member and Change Makers radio show host Royston Allman, right, stands with the chefs from Rhythm N Food catering and East Orange Campus High School Teacher Sharonda Allen, second from left, on Thanksgiving, Thursday, Nov. 22, at the second 1,000 Thankful Souls Community Dinner in Cicely Tyson School of the Performing and Fine Arts in East Orange and Weequahic High School in Newark.

EAST ORANGE, NJ — East Orange 5th Ward Councilwoman Alicia Holman joined forces with Royston Allman and the Ampere Civic Improvement Association, Treehouse Cares and chefs Sean Hassan and Aaron Black of Rhythm N Food catering to host the annual 1,000 Thankful Souls Community Dinner at Cicely Tyson School of the Performing and Fine Arts on Thanksgiving, Thursday, Nov. 22.

“I was there, but I had to leave before it ended, because I had to go cook my dinner for my family,” said Holman on Friday, Nov. 23. “I had two things going on that day, since I also was at Bethel Presbyterian Church on Dodd Street, taking food to convalescence homes and essential personnel. I love to serve my community and beyond.”

Holman said her family has a tradition of public service to the East Orange community, which is why she partnered with ACIA, Rhythm N Food and Treehouse Cares, which is the non-profit charitable arm of the Treehouse Entertainment company that helped produce and provide technical support for many public concerts and events in Essex County, including former Orange at large Councilman Rayfield Morton’s annual House Music Festival in Monte Irvin Orange Park.

“I was raised to help those who can’t help themselves,” said Holman, “all in a part of giving back just a portion of what God has blessed me with. I believe that, to whom much is given, much is required.”

Allman, Hassan and Black said they agree with Holman, and they put their culinary skills behind their beliefs. Last year, Hassan and Black said they hosted the first one of these events at George Washington Carver School in Newark. This year, they expanded by simultaneously hosting events at George Washington Carver School again and Cicely Tyson School of the Performing and Fine Arts in East Orange.

“Chef Hassan and chef Ameer last year started this 1,000 Thankful Souls and they did it down in Newark and they wanted to extend it year to year to different cities and that’s where Brother Joe came in here, connected with the chef, came to ACIA and also Treehouse and just said it would be a good idea for us to get this off the ground,” said Allman on Thursday, Nov. 22. “So we went to our councilwoman, Alicia Holman, and she got the ball rolling with the school. So we’ve got to thank Jamie Adams and the Board of Education business administrator, Mr. Smith. They allowed us to come into the school and worked it out with the councilwoman, so here we are making it pop.”

According to Hassan, the “pop” Allman referred to is feeding anyone in East Orange and Newark on Thanksgiving, not necessarily only the economically or socially disadvantaged and needy.

“Last year, chef Ameer and myself, we organized the first annual 1,000 Thankful Souls at George Washington Carver School in Newark in the Weequahic section of the South Ward and our goal was to feed 1,000 people in the community,” said Hassan on Thursday, Nov. 22. “It’s not a homeless thing, it’s just people. It might be that lawyer who can’t get home or just doesn’t have family and doesn’t want to cook; that doctor, that college student that may be just here without family, or that parent who just paid all their bills and can’t afford Thanksgiving dinner. It’s for anybody. For the most part, we just wanted to be able to feed the community and involve the community in it.”

Hassan said he believes “the thing about being a great leader is you have to always be a better servant,” which is why he and the others decided to be involved with this event in the first place.

“Being a great leader by being a better servant is one of the things that we live by, so connecting with these brothers who always believed in their community and myself was just a marriage made in heaven,” Hassan said. “So, for this year, we decided that we’re also going to do it in Newark and we’re going to expand to East Orange so, right now, today, we had chef Ameer and a team at Weequahic High School and we’re here at Cicely Tyson School. It’s all scratch-made food. There’s nothing out of cans or boxes from us. We just went in and came in last night. We prepped and did everything myself with chef Black, who was a huge help to make sure that everything ] ran properly today. He pretty much ran that kitchen for me. Our goal was not to just serve food, but serve good, fresh food and not let people feel like they’re an afterthought, by just giving them some garbage food. We make music for your mouth. That’s what it is.”

Allman said it’s also about being thankful for all the support they received from Holman and everyone else. Hassan also said they are looking to expand the 1,000 Thankful Souls event into more of the communities encompassed in the area of “five mayors who work closely together in Orange, East Orange, Newark, Irvington and Hillside” to “show that their leadership has inspired” and “those constituents are working at times of need for people that don’t have” because “that’s our job.”

“Our job is to change the narrative,” Hassan said. “People always try to say that things are terrible in our neighborhoods, but they’re never as terrible as they seem. There’s more of us trying to help than not.”

Allman agreed with chef Hassan.

“Life is an art. You’ve got to continue to draw it up,” Allman said. “We do want to expand to maybe Orange and Irvington, too. I’ve got to say, the help we got was small contributions from people. Also though, American Ware made a contribution; the (National) Pan-Hellenic Council of Essex County, which is the black Greek frats and sororities, they made a contribution, as well as came in numbers. As far as volunteers — they came heavy in numbers to volunteer; and also the Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, he wrote a check for us as well, from the county. He helped us out as well. So we’re looking at more people aware of it. Next year, it’s going to be bigger and better and also have more people in service and come out and volunteer and think about other people on this day.”