Like nearly every tradition this year, St. Catherine’s Catholic Church in Riverside had to adapt their 30-year tradition of giving out Thanksgiving food baskets. A normally indoor community event was shaped into a drive-thru service.
Second in the car line for her 3 p.m. pick-up time was Thelma Lewis, a 73-year-old Riverside resident, who said she received a call to sign up for the service this year.
“Any little bit helps because so many people is in need," said Lewis. "And so many people are missing families and being able to share and be with their families.”
Lance Wiseman, who helps organize the event put on by the church’s youth ministry, said they moved the event outside this year to make it safe.
“Normally they’ve come in to pick up their baskets from us," said Wiseman. "It’s more of a personal contact. And we’ve had U.C.R. Health giving free resources out and we see the joy of the families. This year everybody’s been asked to mask up, and everybody’s having to glove up and keep socially distanced.”
He said he is saddened to miss out on the chance to build community face to face with the people who come. Over the last 15 years, the number of families they help steadily grew to 450 last year. He thinks this is probably due to a combination of other area food pantries closing and needs growing in the community. But this year there are signs of community strain on both the giving and receiving end.
“This year is different because we are doing less than we have done in the past, but we also have less donations than we’ve had in the past," said Wiseman. "We are very fortunate that we have some very charitable people who have come through to at least cover the 275 families.”
At check-in, a piece of paper was taped to car windshields with the family size. At a building on the other side of a basketball court, teens stood outside two doorways wearing masks and face shields watching to spot that number. A young woman spotted it and announced, "We have another family of four.”
Through the first doorway, a turkey fit for that family size was grabbed from ice, placed in a bag, and rushed outside. The driver was instructed to drive to the next doorway where they would receive their "bag".
Which as sixteen-year-old Poly High School Junior, Bailey Brown, explained was full of the classics.
"It’s just potatoes, gravy, cranberries and green beans, and corn, stuff like that,” said Brown.
Back outside, many people in line expressed their thanks and talked about their adapted plans for the holiday to stay safe from the virus. This was especially important to Thelma Lewis, who said she has lost several family members this year to COVID-19.
“Hey we all gotta go, but we don’t want to go this way," said Lewis. "But in the mean-time, I’m just thankful that I had the chance to know them while they was here.”
In all that darkness there was a happy event for Lewis. She has the recent birth of a great-grandchild to be thankful for, too.