Two hallmarks of Thanksgiving are gathering around a meal and gratitude. And knowing a feast isn’t possible for many families, a number of local unions around the state are looking to the holidays as a time to rise up and reach out to others.
A “Teacher Trot,” turkey giveaways, food drives, and a fourth-grade class meal are just some of the ways members are making note of Thanksgiving this year, as they offer food to those in their communities, space for colleagues to spend time with each other, and teach students what the holiday is all about.
This November marks the 22nd year the Buffalo Teachers Federation is donating meals and gift certificates, joining up with charitable and non-profit organizations to serve more than 200 families in need. Several hundred shopping bags and boxes crammed with food have been piling up in the union’s office, filling the floors and conference table. Every bag is filled with canned corn, green beans, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, dinner rolls, stuffing and a gift card to buy the big turkey.
“This bounty of food was donated by Buffalo teachers and students who want to do their part to make sure families, who might otherwise go without, will enjoy Thanksgiving,” said Phil Rumore, president of the BTF.
More than 3,000 families have benefited from the union food program since it began.
Saranac Lake Teachers Association members trekked through the snow to make sure freezers in the local food pantry were stocked with more than ice. They donated hams, chickens and turkeys. Saranac Lake TA Co-President Maria DeAngelo said the local's outreach was in response to a call for help from the food pantry, which appealed to the community for help stocking its shelves as they were nearly bare.
Fourth graders in Schodack will learn the meaning of Thanksgiving and its history when walls separating classrooms are pushed aside and they all gather for a holiday meal brought in by parents and set up on a buffet table in the enlarged classroom.
“We talk about why we celebrate on that day and how it became a national holiday,” said fourth-grade teacher Scott Charlebois, whose daily work is to educate students about New York state history.
Students learn Thanksgiving was declared a national holiday by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, and how the declaration was an opportunity to unify a nation cut apart by the Civil War. The holiday, Charlebois tells students, was held on different Thursdays in November among some states, until it was formally declared the fourth Thursday in November.
In New York City, members of the United College Employees of Fashion Institute of Technology are bringing in edible goods to the union office for the fall food drive, which runs from Nov. 1 through Dec. 17. The non-perishable foods will be provided to City Harvest, a food rescue organization that collects food and brings it to pantries and soup kitchens in all five boroughs.
For more than 20 years, families on Long Island have been benefitting from the generosity of the faculty and staff from the Faculty Association of Suffolk Community College. Each of the three college campuses has a food pantry, and the FA allocates $400 for each pantry that ultimately are filled with items such as chickens, hams, canned goods and stuffing.
The emphasis for the Webster TA is on gathering.
Four years ago, the local union started a Teacher Trot, making a Thanksgiving morning event where “we kind of take a slow, old-person jog through the woods,” according to local president Chris Wojtas. Teachers, staff and administrators in this Monroe County locale join up on the Hojack Trail along an old railroad bed, and head toward Irondequoit Bay.
Wojtas, who teaches social studies, said the Trot offers an alternative from the community’s jam-packed race in town so that teachers can spend time together and give thanks for the gift of camaraderie.
“It’s a collaborative get-together before the holidays.”