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On Thanksgiving, serving up food, friendliness and plenty of hugs

preparing turkey.JPG
Julian Abraham
Staffers including executives for the center like Brandy Ann Garofalo and Veronne Demesyeux prepared turkeys in the kitchen.

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - New Bethany Ministries held its annual Thanksgiving dinner Thursday, serving up hot turkey, stuffing, beans and potatoes to all who came.

Dozens of people lined up outside near Fourth and Wyandotte streets, some showing up in cars with sleeping bags in the back seat.

They greeted each other with smiles and hugs and wished one another a happy Thanksgiving.

  • New Bethany Ministries served Thanksgiving meals to those in need
  • The tradition has been going on for more than 20 years, while the center has been open for over 30 years
  • The COVID-19 pandemic caused a change in who shows up — and not everyone is without a home

The turkey dinner prepared and served by volunteers is just as you would expect, but some of the people are not.
"I've had people say to me, 'You know, I want you to know that I have an advanced degree, a Ph.D., I have a master's degree," said Marc Rittle, executive director of New Bethany Ministries.

Julian Abraham
Executive Director Marc Rittle said changing economic situations from COVID-19 are causing a change in clientele at New Bethany Ministries.

He said people who work or volunteer at the organization have noticed a shift in the people who need help since the economic consequences of the pandemic have set in.

He said this change happened over the last three years.

"It really just is — we're all neighbors and we're all the same people," Rittle said. "And at any point in time, somebody could need food."

A warm smile and hug

While Rittle finished that thought and appeared a bit dampened by the mood, a friendly-looking woman intervened, effectively intercepting the conversation and steering it back to something happier.

"Look! There's that guy that only comes on Thanksgiving — the guy with the green coat," said Brandy Ann Garofalo, director of the nonprofit agency's Hospitality Center.

Julian Abraham
Brandy Ann Garofalo said with all the talk about some of her guests being difficult, the vast majority are friendly. And even for the ones who are tough to deal with, she said she can understand why they are angry.

Even though Garofalo only sees the man once a year, she somehow remembered his name, John Bishop, and went over to give him a big hug without any semblance of awkwardness or force.

Julian Abraham
John Bishop enjoys a turkey dinner at New Bethany Ministries. He only comes here once a year and said he looks forward to the food and people every time.

Colleagues say Garofalo is "perfect" for her job. Regardless of circumstance, she said she thinks people are deep-down good. She said she understands that folks may not be always having their best day.

"There's a couple people that cannot go into businesses in this neighborhood. They have burned their bridges," she said. "So for me, that's why I come to work. Because if we weren't here, where would they be?"

"I think that sometimes that angst is earned. I don't know if I'm as strong as some of the people we help."
Brandy Ann Garofalo, director of the Mollard Hospitality Center at New Bethany Ministries

Based in South Bethlehem, New Bethany Ministries provides a host of services such as transitional housing and food.

Garofalo said New Bethany has room for just about anyone — no matter how badly they need a shower or how much profanity they want to use, although she said most guests are polite and thankful.

"I think that sometimes that angst, is earned," she said. "I don't know if I'm as strong as some of the people we help. There are people sleeping somewhere in the woods, outdoors right at this moment, trying to eat out of their backpacks, having to guard their belongings. And when you're having that type of experience, there has to be some level of angst that comes with that and uncomfortableness and anger.

"So if you need to come here and your first half hour is getting that out, God bless you. You've got a place to come and tell someone about it."

Garofalo added that occasional unruly guests are her favorite type to work with because they are the ones who need her most. She also said they respond well to her because she meets them with love.

Julian Abraham
A mix of staff and volunteers served up Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday. Organizers said most of them live in the immediate neighborhood, which gives them an extra sense of mission.

New Bethany Ministries has been in operation for more than 30 years. Those serving up the meals Thursday were a mix of staff and volunteers, some through AARP's volunteer subsidization program.

Some are just people in the community who like to help out.

New Bethany Ministries is always accepting donations, volunteers, and other avenues of help.

As Associate Executive Director Veronne Demesyeux put it: "People need to eat every day, not just on Thanksgiving."