Local church has annual Thanksgiving turkey giveaway

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ORANGE, NJ — Ebenezer Baptist Church of Orange got into the holiday season with its annual Thanksgiving turkey giveaway on Friday, Nov. 22, as a long line of residents stood outside the church in the rain, gripping their umbrellas and waiting for the Rev. William Rutherford III to call their number. In the main hall, residents received a turkey and a bag filled with other food items.

“Today, we’re giving out turkeys to the community,” Valinda Bates, a church trustee who volunteers at the pantry and soup kitchen, told the Record-Transcript at the event. “We do this every year. Luella Jackson is the director of the organization and she’s been doing this for about 40 years. Right now, we’re up to 36 turkeys that have been given away so far. We’re estimating about 105 clients to receive a turkey.”

For many years now, Ebenezer Baptist Church has been serving the community by giving turkeys to residents for Thanksgiving.

“Some turkeys are donated from the organization that we deal with, which is the food bank,” Bates said. “How that works is, we pay for some turkeys. So, if we buy 20, they donate 20. If we buy 40, they donate 40 and that’s how we distribute. When we have clients that need assisting, or have some type of disability, we assist them to the car and put the grocery bags in their car, so that they can better receive the bags.

“I’m excited to give back to the community. I’m glad and honored and blessed that we are able to give out the turkeys to the community which is needed,” she added.

Jackson, the church’s food ministry director who has spearheaded the turkey giveaways for decades, said at the event, “Today, we are giving away turkeys, oven-stuffers and many vegetables. I’ve been working here for about 40 years. The pastor of the church and I work together for the turkey giveaway.”

“Today has been a great day, but I don’t have enough turkeys for everyone,” she continued. “But we will do the best we can. So far, I’ve got numbers out there for each person waiting in line and I’ve got 80 more to give out today.”

“This is amazing,” said one Orange resident who was waiting in line at the turkey giveaway. “It’s nice. It’s a nice thing that they’re doing for everyone. I’m excited about the holidays.”

“It’s Thanksgiving time. We’re giving away holiday turkeys, oven stuffer roasters, vegetables and we do this every year,” Rutherford told the Record-Transcript at the event. “Today, we’re giving away about 75 turkeys and probably about 25 to 35 oven stuffers and a whole bunch of groceries as well. This turkey giveaway has been continuously operating since the mid ’80s. … Deaconess Jackson has run it the entire time, so as far as I know. It’s the longest running food pantry in Orange and it’s one of the longest running in Essex County.

“Right now, I think we are at 55 or 56. There’s still a line outside and we expect it to serve over 100 people today. My expectations for this turkey giveaway is just that folks will get a free turkey and it’ll help them with their holiday preparation. We’re trying to be a blessing to people. We do this all the time. We give away as much as we can, so we look at it like, if we can take a little bit of that financial burden from the food bill off people’s monthly budget, their dollars will go a little bit further.”

“At this time of year, it’s really important,” Rutherford continued. “Everybody wants to have a good holiday season, so we’re just trying to help out however we can. We usually do the Thanksgiving turkey giveaway here at this church. We also do a Thanksgiving luncheon where we serve food to everyone as well. But we do it here, every year. We look forward to it. … We won’t be open on Thanksgiving Day, so we’re doing the turkey giveaway today to help people get ready for the holiday.”

“Next Wednesday, we will be serving a full Thanksgiving meal to anyone that wants to come,” Rutherford added. “It’s 153 William St., Ebenezer Baptist Church in Orange and it’s open to anyone. You don’t need an ID. Just come on in and spend Thanksgiving with us.”

Although, Rutherford wasn’t thrilled that it was raining for the church event last week, he said they’d make the most of it, as always.

“I wish we had some coverage outside to keep people dry. We’re working on all those things. I think this year was a success. It’s not easy to serve some portions of our community, especially when the weather isn’t good, and people are hungry. But today was good. The people had smiles on their faces, the volunteers came out in good numbers and we were able to do this pretty efficiently.”

“Today’s line is standard,” he continued. “When the economy is good, people don’t come out as much. This particular year, a lot of other groups are giving away turkeys, too. There’s well over 1,000 turkeys being given away right here in the city of Orange, and that’s a good thing. We’re grateful for all of those that help make that happen. It’s not just at this time of year. Right now, you’ve got a lot of help. But in January and December, we don’t have as much help. In those months, you’ll see longer lines. But because there are turkeys and everyone’s giving them away, we don’t have a monopoly on that, and we don’t mind. So our line isn’t quite as long as it’ll normally be.”

Rutherford also pointed out that the church also feeds many local residents at its food kitchen every month and via its pantry.

“We normally serve about 1,000 hot meals a month through our soup kitchen and we give away about 2,000 bags of groceries. … We’re giving away about $30,000 to $40,000 worth of food every single month. That makes a difference and that’s really what God has called his people to do which is to help each other along the way and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Photos by EmilyAnn Jackman.