NEW BRITAIN – For Gervais Barger, the fourth annual Thanksgiving Day meal drive is a labor of love.
Barger, head of the New Britain Ministerial Alliance and pastor at Peace Missionary Ministries, began the city’s turkey drive and meal event in 2020 as a way to unite both the church community and residents to have one centrally located place where those in need could have a turkey dinner with all the fixings.
Prior to 2020, the turkey dinners were scattered throughout the city and different churches held their own small events.
Today – via a partnership between the alliance and several entities including the local Police and Fire Departments – more than 500 Thanksgiving meals are served at South Church in downtown New Britain from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.
“I know that I have been blessed and it’s so important to give back.” Barger told CT Examiner this week from South Church, where he rents space. “It’s so important to volunteer; it’s essential for people to do something to help their community and help those in need. There is nothing better than when you take your personal time and give it to someone else.”
Barger and the alliance have been preparing for Thanksgiving Day since September. If it were not for money and food donations from the public, the event, he said, could not be held.
The donations are possible because churches in the alliance inform their congregants of the event; fliers are made; news on the annual turkey give-away get around through word of mouth; and local police hold two ‘Stuff a Cruiser’ events asking people to give money and food items twice prior to the holiday.
Barger said that this year the menu will feature turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing from mixed vegetables, mashed potatoes and gravy. Macaroni and cheese have also been added for the first time. For dessert, Barger said, several people donated pumpkin pies, sweet potato pies, and apple pies.
Matthew Marino, the city’s police chief since May, told CT Examiner that more than 30 officers have volunteered their time to help the alliance prepare for the event at South Church and will also help deliver more than 100 dinners to residents who are unable to make it for a sit-down meal.
“The number of officers has grown each year,” said Marino, who has been on the force for 16 years. “It’s great to see so many people from the community behind this project and the volunteers also continue to grow.”
Marino noted that most of the turkey dinners are prepared for by the staff at E.C. Goodwin Technical High School. Staff and students from Central Connecticut State University also donate their time.
Marino will also personally take part in the day with his 9-year-old son, who last year packed sodas.
“To be honest, it’s just the way I was raised,” said Marino, who was born and raised in New Britain. “My parents were always super involved and it’s one of the things they definitely instilled in my brother and sisters.”
Local police, Marino said, start preparing the food the Wednesday night prior to Thanksgiving and head over to South Church – across the street from the Police Department – Thanksgiving Day morning.
Marino said the event also helps the homeless and city residents see another side to police officers.
“It sheds some light on the fact that we are human too,” Marino said. “We buy into the same values that everyone around us in the community does.”
In addition to the Thanksgiving Day meal, Barger said those attending will also get clothing and a gift bag, all donated by residents and city churches.
The food items, Barger said, includes coats, winter hats, scarves, socks and toiletries.
Mayor Erin Stewart said the event is a “great place to grab a meal and go or you can sit down and enjoy it with company. It’s a good thing for the residents and it’s a good thing for the city.”