Free Holiday Meals for Needy a Southern Ocean County Tradition

Nov 20, 2017
Supplied Photo

Let’s talk turkey, lots of turkey, and plenty of trimmings and desserts as well.

There are plenty of poor people, and lonely people, and elderly people, and sick people in Southern Ocean County. Luckily, with the holiday season rapidly approaching, there are also plenty of people preparing to spark their Thanksgiving and Christmas spirits.

On Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, Nov. 23, the Sandbox Café at 1403 Long Beach Blvd. in Surf City for will be serving – literally serving guests at their tables – a Thanksgiving feast for the second year.

Sandbox owner Dana DiSalvio said, “We’re so happy and blessed to be doing it again. We’ve got lots more volunteers lined up already. Last year we had 17, including our chefs and waitresses. This year we’re going to have 20 or 25 because other people want to help. We’re more organized this year because we got off to an earlier start planning this.”

In its inaugural dinner, DiSalvio and Co. served 50 diners.

“We prepared for 200, but only had 50. As I said, we got off to a late start letting people know about it last year.”

She’s hoping for 150 in 2017.

The free dinner will run from noon to 5 p.m. Reservations are not required, but DiSalvio did ask people to call the Sandbox at 609-361-2524 to let organizers know the size of their party and their ETA. Better for planning, after all. And if people want to volunteer to help, they should also ring that number.

“It was,” DiSalvio told The SandPaper after last year’s trial dinner, “to say the very least, incredible. There were 50 of the most needy: people who were living at motels on the Island, senior citizens who had nowhere to go, people you could tell hadn’t been to a restaurant in a really long time. For our first year, I was thrilled about it.”

St. Mary’s Parish

Hosts Christmas Dinner

People, of course, can be hungry and lonely on Christmas as well, and that is where St. Mary’s Parish of Barnegat steps up to the plate both literally and figuratively. The volunteers there will be serving up a free Christmas dinner from noon to 3 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 25, at the parish center on Bishop Lane in Manahawkin with help from Knights of Columbus Council 3826.

The tradition began in 2009 when the Rua family, St. Mary’s parishioners, and their friends handed out hot meals in takeout containers to the people they had observed living in cars or tents near Stafford Township’s Manahawkin Lake Park. They hung up signs at bus stops, government agencies and local stores to alert those people to the meal.

The next year Monsignor Ken Tuzeneu allowed the Ruas to use the parish center behind St Mary of the Pines Church. More volunteers, from all faiths, joined in the effort, and soon they were serving hundreds of Christmas Day meals.

All those who are in need of a meal or companionship are invited to intend. But please, don’t show up just because you don’t feel like cooking – the need is great, mate.

“We know some families struggle to buy gifts for their children, so the holiday meal is the last thing on their list,” said Gail Rua. “We want families to have a nice meal in the company of others to share on this glorious day.”

Gifts are also handed out: donated hats, gloves, coats, scarves, clothing and canned goods. Santa Claus, as exhausted as he must be after his globetrotting the previous night, will also be there handing out goodies.

To register for the dinner, arrange for a ride, donate gifts or learn more, call 609-978-6508 after Dec. 1 and before Dec. 22.

Rick Mellerup

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