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Family Values: Volunteers Work to Feed the Less Fortunate at Thanksgiving and Year-Round

Nov. 21, 2007 — There are smiles. There is plenty of turkey, potatoes, gravy and stuffing. There is laughter and there is a prayer before the meal.
It could be any large family gathering, but this is a different family. It is the family of the homeless and hungry gathering at My Brother's Table in Frederiksted for a Thanksgiving tradition on the day before Thanksgiving.
"The patrons here could be drug-addicted, alcoholics or someone who gave up a career to take care of aged parents," said Rod Koopmans, pastor at St. Croix Reformed Church.
A homeless person once illustrated the problem well, Koopmans said, comparing homeless people to pennies in the gutter: "They are so worthless nobody wants to pick them up."
But there are exceptions.
"At My Brother's Table we provide a good clean place where people maintain their dignity," Koopmans said.
A similar type of charity work occurs daily on the east end of the island at the Catholic Charities soup kitchen in Christiansted.
William George, a thin man with sad, watery eyes, ate lunch at the soup kitchen Wednesday. He has been getting a hot meal off and on there the last 10 years. George has worked as a plumber, but says he is an addict and can't hold down a job.
"I get some help from my family, but I really appreciate the meals and clothes they give here," he said. George had an HIV test last week and the results came back OK.
Caring volunteers at the Christiansted soup kitchen also frequently serve Carmen Melendez, a disabled young woman with three young children. The single mom was there Wednesday.
"I am always looking for a job, but I can't find one," Melendez said.
The soup kitchen normally serves 35 to 40 meals a day five days a week between 11:30 and 1 p.m.
"The meals we provide in Christiansted are usually for the chronically homeless," said Michael Akin, executive director of Catholic Charities.
My Brother's Table serves about 50 people daily.
"With the price of gas, electric bills and the cost of groceries, I'm afraid we will see an increase in meals served," said Veronica John, a cook at the Christiansted kitchen.
After the middle of the month, the volunteers see an increase in the number of drop-ins because food stamps have run out for many. Judith Gumbs, a needy elderly person frequently seen in Christiansted selling peanuts and candy from her baby stroller, volunteers at the kitchen.
"I tell the hungry people on the street about food and clothes they can get here," she said.
Employees of American Eagle are keeping a tradition alive at My Brother's Table. The employees have been preparing the food and serving it at the facility during Thanksgiving week for half a dozen years.
"We do it because God blessed us and we want to share God’s blessing,” said Julia Pull-Carter, one of the six Eagle employees volunteering Wednesday. "We basically do it so the workers here can get a break for a day.”
"I just want to give back to the community," said Kenneth Donawa Jr., another Eagle employee. Rotary West members will help with the serving at My Brother's Table on Thanksgiving.
St. Croix Christian Church volunteers are not confined to delivering to the towns on the island. This is their fifth year of delivering Thanksgiving meals in an outreach mission. Last year they delivered 430 traditional Crucian Thanksgiving meals island-wide, with six trucks making multiple trips. This year they plan to provide 500 volunteer-provided dinners. The people living in LBJ and JFK community housing receive some of those meals.
"There are some apartments volunteers go to and they have nothing but milk and teabags," said Terry Hogan, coordinator of the outreach. The people served can be the single mom whose car has broken down and the downward spiral begins — she loses her job and the bills start to pile up, Hogan said.
In the church member's travels they find people living in ramshackle huts in the bush who are very thankful just to have something to eat. They provide for older folks living in corrugated tin shacks or cars in Water Gut. Last year one of the drivers saw a little boy in scruffy clothes walking to a store in the Water Gut area and asked him if he wanted dinner, Hogan said. The boy said he didn't have any money and couldn't believe they would just give it to him. He asked his grandparents if they wanted dinner, and they gratefully accepted the offer.
Volunteers also provide outreach for wives and children of incarcerated men, Hogan said.
"As a church we are so blessed that we feel it is our responsibility to take care of widows and orphans," Hogan said. "They are all our brothers and sisters."
The Department of Human Services on all three islands organizes meals for the Adopt a Foster Family program during the holidays. Last year the program provided meals for 28 families and this year it is serving 30 families, Elisa Niles said. Donors include the Social Action Committee of the Hebrew Congregation, Rotary East, Sunrise Rotary and Molly Malones. For more information on the program, call 774-4393 on St. Thomas and 773-5303 on St. Croix.
Maj. Federico Craig, director of the Salvation Army, said his organization has been helping the hungry and homeless for 90 years on St. Thomas. Last year it provided 200 meals for Thanksgiving.
"We are so thankful for the donations we get, such as 14 turkeys from Gov. John deJongh Jr. and the seven turkeys from the Democratic Party," Craig said.
To make contributions or for more information on services, call 776-0070.
To find out more about Catholic Charities, Bethlehem House emergency shelters and St. John Coral Bay outreach, call 773-0132 on St. Thomas and 778-8518 on St. Croix.
The Light House Mission in Christiansted serves breakfast weekdays at the mission on Market Street.
Koopmans, who has been executive director for My Brother's Table for the last 10 years, said this time can be an uplifting experience for those who are down on their luck. He pointed out that many of the patrons at My Brother's Table have made wrong choices, but have gone on to live productive lives.
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Nov. 21, 2007 -- There are smiles. There is plenty of turkey, potatoes, gravy and stuffing. There is laughter and there is a prayer before the meal.
It could be any large family gathering, but this is a different family. It is the family of the homeless and hungry gathering at My Brother's Table in Frederiksted for a Thanksgiving tradition on the day before Thanksgiving.
"The patrons here could be drug-addicted, alcoholics or someone who gave up a career to take care of aged parents," said Rod Koopmans, pastor at St. Croix Reformed Church.
A homeless person once illustrated the problem well, Koopmans said, comparing homeless people to pennies in the gutter: "They are so worthless nobody wants to pick them up."
But there are exceptions.
"At My Brother's Table we provide a good clean place where people maintain their dignity," Koopmans said.
A similar type of charity work occurs daily on the east end of the island at the Catholic Charities soup kitchen in Christiansted.
William George, a thin man with sad, watery eyes, ate lunch at the soup kitchen Wednesday. He has been getting a hot meal off and on there the last 10 years. George has worked as a plumber, but says he is an addict and can't hold down a job.
"I get some help from my family, but I really appreciate the meals and clothes they give here," he said. George had an HIV test last week and the results came back OK.
Caring volunteers at the Christiansted soup kitchen also frequently serve Carmen Melendez, a disabled young woman with three young children. The single mom was there Wednesday.
"I am always looking for a job, but I can't find one," Melendez said.
The soup kitchen normally serves 35 to 40 meals a day five days a week between 11:30 and 1 p.m.
"The meals we provide in Christiansted are usually for the chronically homeless," said Michael Akin, executive director of Catholic Charities.
My Brother's Table serves about 50 people daily.
"With the price of gas, electric bills and the cost of groceries, I'm afraid we will see an increase in meals served," said Veronica John, a cook at the Christiansted kitchen.
After the middle of the month, the volunteers see an increase in the number of drop-ins because food stamps have run out for many. Judith Gumbs, a needy elderly person frequently seen in Christiansted selling peanuts and candy from her baby stroller, volunteers at the kitchen.
"I tell the hungry people on the street about food and clothes they can get here," she said.
Employees of American Eagle are keeping a tradition alive at My Brother's Table. The employees have been preparing the food and serving it at the facility during Thanksgiving week for half a dozen years.
"We do it because God blessed us and we want to share God’s blessing,” said Julia Pull-Carter, one of the six Eagle employees volunteering Wednesday. "We basically do it so the workers here can get a break for a day.”
"I just want to give back to the community," said Kenneth Donawa Jr., another Eagle employee. Rotary West members will help with the serving at My Brother's Table on Thanksgiving.
St. Croix Christian Church volunteers are not confined to delivering to the towns on the island. This is their fifth year of delivering Thanksgiving meals in an outreach mission. Last year they delivered 430 traditional Crucian Thanksgiving meals island-wide, with six trucks making multiple trips. This year they plan to provide 500 volunteer-provided dinners. The people living in LBJ and JFK community housing receive some of those meals.
"There are some apartments volunteers go to and they have nothing but milk and teabags," said Terry Hogan, coordinator of the outreach. The people served can be the single mom whose car has broken down and the downward spiral begins -- she loses her job and the bills start to pile up, Hogan said.
In the church member's travels they find people living in ramshackle huts in the bush who are very thankful just to have something to eat. They provide for older folks living in corrugated tin shacks or cars in Water Gut. Last year one of the drivers saw a little boy in scruffy clothes walking to a store in the Water Gut area and asked him if he wanted dinner, Hogan said. The boy said he didn't have any money and couldn't believe they would just give it to him. He asked his grandparents if they wanted dinner, and they gratefully accepted the offer.
Volunteers also provide outreach for wives and children of incarcerated men, Hogan said.
"As a church we are so blessed that we feel it is our responsibility to take care of widows and orphans," Hogan said. "They are all our brothers and sisters."
The Department of Human Services on all three islands organizes meals for the Adopt a Foster Family program during the holidays. Last year the program provided meals for 28 families and this year it is serving 30 families, Elisa Niles said. Donors include the Social Action Committee of the Hebrew Congregation, Rotary East, Sunrise Rotary and Molly Malones. For more information on the program, call 774-4393 on St. Thomas and 773-5303 on St. Croix.
Maj. Federico Craig, director of the Salvation Army, said his organization has been helping the hungry and homeless for 90 years on St. Thomas. Last year it provided 200 meals for Thanksgiving.
"We are so thankful for the donations we get, such as 14 turkeys from Gov. John deJongh Jr. and the seven turkeys from the Democratic Party," Craig said.
To make contributions or for more information on services, call 776-0070.
To find out more about Catholic Charities, Bethlehem House emergency shelters and St. John Coral Bay outreach, call 773-0132 on St. Thomas and 778-8518 on St. Croix.
The Light House Mission in Christiansted serves breakfast weekdays at the mission on Market Street.
Koopmans, who has been executive director for My Brother's Table for the last 10 years, said this time can be an uplifting experience for those who are down on their luck. He pointed out that many of the patrons at My Brother's Table have made wrong choices, but have gone on to live productive lives.
Back Talk Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.