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Bowery Mission Says Thanksgiving Meal Giveaway Is More Important Than Ever With More People Struggling During Pandemic

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Volunteers across New York City are stepping up in a big way to help those less fortunate as we celebrate the holidays during this challenging time.

The nonprofit God's Love started prepping in SoHo at 5:30 a.m. Thursday. They cooked a record number of Thanksgiving meals with the help of more than 1,400 volunteers. The group is there for people with severe illnesses year-round.

City Meals of Wheels volunteers brought more than 25,000 Thanksgiving dinners to the homes of older New Yorkers.

Because of the pandemic, even more people are struggling with food insecurity.

The Bowery Mission spent the day making sure those hit hardest could enjoy the holiday.

RELATED STORY -- Siblings Honor Mother Who Died From COVID-19 By Helping To Feed Those In Need On Thanksgiving

Stomachs were full and hearts were happy as hundreds of people enjoyed a free Thanksgiving meal at the Bowery Mission.

Sixty-year-old Lionel Termine was one of them. He lost his job as a security guard during their height of the pandemic in April.

"I couldn't pay for rent. It just got hard, and I became homeless," Termine told CBS2's Kiran Dhillon.

It was a similar story for couple Katherine and Marcell Porter. The struggling artists are also homeless and having a difficult time finding work.

"We're very grateful that we get to have a Thanksgiving dinner together even though we don't have the money for it," Katherine Porter said.

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The free meal was all a part of Bowery Mission's 141st Thanksgiving Day meal giveaway.

But this year, the event looked very different due to the coronavirus.

The Bowery Mission spent Thanksgiving making sure those hit hardest could enjoy the holiday. (Credit: CBS2)

"We're doing everything in a safe and socially distanced way," Bowery Mission CEO James Winans said.

Instead of gathering inside, guests all received their meals in to-go containers and headed to nearby tents to eat.

The Mission says it has taken several precautions to make sure the event is safe. The number of volunteers has been reduced from the normal 500 to 160. Volunteers are all wearing masks, working behind plastic sheet dividers and standing six feet apart.

Winans adds the event is important now more than ever.

"Because of COVID, the Bowery Mission is serving people that we were not used to serving before. These are folks who aren't necessarily homeless but were the first ones laid off, the first ones furloughed, they're out of work, and now they're relying on emergency food to make ends meet," he said.

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Winans says another change this year -- many of the Mission's volunteers are new.

Many, like Lindsay Calleran, have lost their jobs because of COVID and are inspired to give back.

"I'm getting assistance from the state to survive and so there's no difference between me and anybody else, we're all really struggling," she said.

Guests agree but say their struggles are lessened this holiday because of this event.

"I'm not around my family and so it kind of hurts, so it's good to be around people," Annie Johnson said.

They all say they're most grateful this Thanksgiving to the Bowery Mission for providing them with a sense of community.


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