Immigrants And Refugees

Harlem Kennedy Center Thanksgiving event opens Catholic Charities Season of Giving with distribution of 1,000 turkeys and trimmings

Cardinal Dolan, New York Governor Kathy Hochul and volunteers distribute Thanksgiving food at the Kennedy Center in Harlem. Photo: Catholic Charities New York.

The distribution of 1,000 turkeys and festive trimmings at the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Center in Harlem Nov. 23 kicked off what Cardinal Timothy Dolan described as a season of charity. Mark D’Urso and the D’Urso family donated the turkeys for this annual event.

“Not only is this the intro to our national feast of Thanksgiving, but it’s also the opening pitch for the season of generosity,” he said.

Participants included the cardinal, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Assemblywoman Inez Dickens and other local community leaders, as well as Catholic Charities staff and volunteers who distributed food items to the needy. Cameras and reporters from nearly all the local news programs were also in abundance at the 17th annual Catholic Charities Thanksgiving event.

The Need is Great this Season

One recipient noted that the price of bacon had gone up nearly 30 percent. Another, who identified herself as Karen from Harlem, said that “this is a blessing. The people really need it … It puts a smile on my face and my loved ones. People around the table will now be able to thank God.”

Recipients also included Nasir Wali, 22, an Afghan refugee whose family is assisted by Catholic Charities Immigrant and Refugee Services program, and now a Harlem resident. It was Nasir’s first American Thanksgiving. He arrived in New York in August and is currently enrolled in English classes, hoping to establish himself in American life with the help of Catholic Charities.

“We are part of welcoming new Americans,” said Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, told WNBC-TV Channel 4 News.

Before blessing the food, Cardinal Dolan thanked everyone who helped at the event, as well as the political and community leaders who attended.

“You know who else is here?” he asked. The answer: Jesus, who the cardinal said would always make it a point of being where the hungry were fed.

Gov. Hochul said the event reminded her of the words of John F. Kennedy, who called upon Americans to not ask what their country can do for them, but what they could do for their country.

She placed herself as part of a family of “social justice Catholics near Buffalo” who said that what Catholic Charities does is give people hope, even during the difficult times of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It’s been a really challenging time. But God doesn’t’ give us more than we can handle,” she said, emphasizing that while the state is on the road to recovery, there is still more work to be done. She also urged New Yorkers to receive vaccinations and booster shots.

Catholic Charities has partnered with medical providers to administer over 2,200 vaccine doses to the South Bronx Washington Heights and Harlem since February, 2021. The outreach will continue as pediatric doses become available.

Deacon Rodney Beckford, Director of the Kennedy Center, offered the opening prayer, urging participants to seek justice even in an age “of untruth, even as our eyes witness truth.”

He prayed that God would “help us to preach the word, not just in words alone, but in our works.”

Volunteers pack carts filled with food at the Kennedy Center in Harlem. Photo: Catholic Charities New York

Those works reverberate throughout the city, Msgr. Sullivan noted. The food gathered at the Harlem event will also be distributed throughout the Catholic Charities network of agencies serving the poor on the Lower East Side, Washington Heights, as well as locations in the Bronx.

The Kennedy Center, the monsignor said, provides just one indication of the wide range of Catholic Charities’ services.  He noted that last year’s Thanksgiving turkey event was held outdoors, not only because of Covid concerns but because the small auditorium was used to assist public school students learning via Zoom.

“It is a microcosm of what Catholic Charities does,” he said, noting how the Kennedy Center works to provide housing assistance, food for seniors and families, and recreation for the young. 

View New York’s NBC4 coverage of the event.