ANNAPOLIS – Working with the hungry has made Sue Elias a little more thoughtful about her Thanksgiving traditions.
“I’m trying to simplify my own meal and celebration,” said Elias, the resource coordinator for Beans and Bread, a Baltimore soup kitchen. “Working with people who have very little . . . it’s hard to eat 17 courses.”
Many food pantry employees and volunteers say working with the hungry gives them a unique perspective on celebrating the holiday.
Elias will spend Thanksgiving morning at the soup kitchen making preparations for its dinner, which will serve about 400 people, and then will host her own feast in the afternoon. Though the fare will be the traditional turkey and trimmings, the dinner will be a family-focused event.
“Having been exposed to people who are homeless, particularly on a holiday, it makes you appreciate that you have family to be with,” she said.
Other hunger workers have similar attitudes.
“Working with this population in this kind of setting has very definitely thrown a different light on Thanksgiving for me,” said Sister Mary Louise Dollars, who works with My Brother’s Keeper, also a Baltimore soup kitchen. “I have a much deeper appreciation when I sit down at home for that meal.”
Food Link, an Annapolis food bank, distributes 3 million pounds of food annually, according to Cathy Holstrom, executive director. Working regularly with people who often have to make choices between food and other expenses reinforces her appreciation for food and family, she said.
On Thanksgiving, “we’re going to walk into a situation where we’re going to eat like kings,” she said.
When her family celebrated last year, “it was almost an issue because we had so much food,” she said. “You truly understand how lucky you are.”
Len Kirsten, a 78-year-old Bethesda resident, volunteers at the Bethesda Cares soup kitchen year-round and will help out with its dinner before he celebrates at his nephew’s home.
“It’s always good to do this first. It makes the second dinner even more rewarding when you know you’ve done something to help some people,” Kirsten said.
But the holiday is just a reminder of a need food bank employees see throughout the year.
“We have people who struggle every day who just honestly don’t know if they’ll get to eat,” Holstrom said.
Beans and Bread gets “tons of calls” from volunteers around the holiday that they don’t get during the rest of the year, according to Elias.
“We don’t have that many needs around here at Thanksgiving,” she said. “It makes me aware that Thanksgiving is just one other day out of the 365 a year that people are in need.”