(Photo: AP Images / Kathy Willens)
Churches and charities throughout the country are preparing for what they expect to be their biggest service of free Thanksgiving meals.
With more families struggling to put food on the table and the unemployment rate high, many nonprofits are anticipating larger crowds for their turkey giveaways and dinners on Thursday.
The Salvation Army Greater New York Division announced that it will expand its annual Thanksgiving Dinner this year to feed more than 10,000 hungry New Yorkers across the boroughs, Long Island and Westchester, making it one of the largest holiday dinners in the division's 129-year history. Last year the group served 800 meals.
"As one of New York's major social services provides, we have witnessed the human toll of the recession firsthand," said Lt. Colonel Guy D. Klemanski, Divisional Commander in a statement. "We are committed to continuing The Salvation Army's tradition of stepping up when times are tough and know that New Yorkers will once again come together to help fellow New Yorkers."
The local nonprofit will serve 5,000 pounds of turkey along with other side dishes at 10 centers. Great Performances, one of New York's premier catering companies, will prepare and serve the food. Chef Marc Spooner, champion of the Food Network's "Chopped," will oversee. Plus, 300 employees of Wall Street's Goldman Sachs Group Inc., will be volunteering.
The New York charity joins other Salvation Army divisions in cities such as Orlando that are also stepping up their services to feed more mouths this year.
The holiday season comes as a report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture revealed that food insecurity is at an all-time high. In 2008, 17 million households, or 14.6 percent, were food insecure and families had difficulty putting enough food on the table at times during the year. That marks a significant increase from 13 million households the year before.
An increasing number of children in the United States are also suffering. Nearly one in four children was classified as not having enough food in 2008.
To meet the growing need, some nonprofits have already begun serving holiday meals. Over the weekend Union Rescue Mission fried up turkeys on Los Angeles' Skid Row, offering full Thanksgiving meals to over 3,000 people as well as activities for children.
Here's Life Inner City, the compassionate urban ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ, over the weekend packed thousands of "Boxes of Love" that are filled with ingredients for a full holiday meal for a family of six as well as some Christian materials, including Scriptures and a clear Gospel presentation. The boxes are being distributed to families in 13 cities, including Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles and Seattle.
"In these tough economic times, even a small donation can have a big impact on someone's life," said Ted Gandy, national director of Here's Life Inner City, in a statement. "It's amazing the hope that a simple box of food can bring to a poverty-stricken family-especially during the holidays."