Written by Lauren del Valle, firstname.lastname@example.org Saturday, 30 November 2013 00:00
For the Alford family, Thanksgiving is not the stereotypical Norman Rockwell painting of the holiday. Rather, it is a day of service during which they compile and distribute more than 400 Thanksgiving meals for senior citizens and families in need in 36 different towns on Long Island.
Melinda and John Alford spend the month of November organizing volunteers and donations out of their home in preparation for Thanksgiving Day.
Each year, Melinda personally calls each individual who needed a meal in years past to offer her family’s services again. Catholic Charities and school district social workers collaborate with the Alfords to compile an updated list of senior citizens. Local rotaries and chambers of commerce such as that of Garden City donate funds to help offset costs.
School children from the Stewart School and Unqua Elementary School in Massapequa decorate meal bags in their art classes. Girl and Boy Scout troops and church groups collect desserts.
Twenty-eight different families cook a turkey to be brought to the Alford’s home ready to be sliced and packaged Thanksgiving morning. Wednesday night, John Alford does not sleep for the sake of the vegetable sides. That’s the way the Alfords do it. Everyone must experience the homemade touch of a family’s efforts as though they were able to visit their own.
When it comes time for deliveries, 40 cars line up outside the Alford home awaiting their assignments. In addition to home deliveries, families who cannot afford the supplies to make their own meals receive the fixings to create their own traditions. And the giving does not stop here as volunteers serve a sit-down dinner at St. Mary’s Manor for senior citizens in Inwood.
“I can’t name individual people because there are just so many,” said Melinda Alford. “We’ve never had a shortage of people wanting to help. It’s a beautiful thing. We’ve had some people go back and visit and have ongoing relationships.”
Old faces come back and new volunteers reach out. There is a waiting list for delivery drivers.
A well-oiled machine like this is a culmination of details developed over the past 17 years. The idea of serving others on Thanksgiving came to John and Melinda after the birth of their fifth and youngest child, Timmy, in 1996.
It began as a free meal served to 60 people at their family restaurant, J.B.’s Pub. They would shut down the restaurant for this purpose on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. In 1999, they began making meals for local charities that delivered to senior citizens. After the restaurant closed in 2001, their project turned into an operation out of their home.
Both parents are school librarians, so having time off for the holiday allows everything to come together in the final days. Timmy is now in high school and their five children have grown into invaluable helpers that carve out the week of Thanksgiving for the purpose of giving.
“They will do absolutely anything I ask of them. I couldn’t do it without them at this point,” said Melinda Alford.
The seven Alfords end the day of service with leftovers and a trip to the movies that Melinda could only describe as the perfect end to the day. They won’t sit down amongst extended family for a traditional Thanksgiving meal until the following week.
“When they were young, we’d all go around the table and say what they were thankful for, and they would all say the deliveries. And I knew then that they got it,” said Melinda Alford.
For more information regarding any part of this program, please contact Melinda and John Alford at 516-747-8331.