One man’s generosity, and the work of a noble charity, has feed thousands of people this Thanksgiving.
As 2,000 people with vouchers for turkeys waited patiently on Monday, November 24 in a long winding line up Alexander Avenue and around to East 140th and East 141st streets in Mott Haven, the recipients’ benefactor, real estate mogul Joel Fishman, sat quietly in his car with his daughter and grandchildren waiting for the distribution to begin.
He had flown in from Palm Springs, California to be in the poorest congressional district in the United States, for the annual turkey giveaway.
Fishman was now in his 31st year of donating thousands of turkeys in an annual drive coordinated with the Dominican Sisters Family Health Service, a health care provider and faith-based vising nurse service.
As the line continued to grow with people in need, he spoke about how much this event means to him and his family.
“It is just people helping people,” he said, before going on to explain how he was the owner of residential buildings in the Bronx and recalled how the Dominican Sisters of Hope, a Catholic religious order, came to the aid of a elderly Jewish woman who had no family and needed help in one of his apartments. He was so touched by the sisters work, he cried.
Citing all the logistical issues that inevitably come up every year, he said that with the help of the sisters’ organization who select the families, it has grown from 50 turkeys the first year to sometimes more than 2,000.
“It is a labor of love that I will do, until I cannot do it anymore,” said Fishman. “It is my friends that really made it all happen who I ask to help, and it is the sisters who do all of the work because they work with these people day in and day out.”
He said that the people waiting in line were not strangers, but people that the sisters knew and worked with. They were going through programs to improve their lives,, and that everything involving the giveaway was done in a dignified manner. “
These people don’t have to wait on line, they want to be on (line) because they are afraid maybe there won’t be one left,” he said.
Nearby, near the foot of Dominican Sisters’ stoop and almost at the front of the line, was Nuris Cevallos of Soundview, who said she had been waiting since 3:10 a.m. in the morning for a turkey.
Even though the truck delivering the turkey was delayed for several hours, she just seemed glad for the opportunity.
“We would probably have chicken if we could not get turkey,” she said, adding “it is hard to make ends meet, so this is really appreciated.”
Cevallos said that she works, and so do a lot of people standing on the line, but what they earn is not enough. She also said that supermarkets had cut back on promotions, and that the cost of turkeys were expensive. She learned about the giveaway from a friend.
Fishman said that he grew up in Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn for 12 years because of a condition with his leg, and did not have a father, adding that he was bar mitzvahed with borrowed money. He said that he worked for 46 years and was very lucky.
In a phone interview, Mary Zagajeski, president and CEO at Dominican Sisters Family Health Services said that Fishman is a true friend of the agency and a close friend of her predecessor, Sister Virginia Hanrahan, who headed up the agency before passing away earlier this year.
“We feed thousands of mouths as a result of this turkey drive,” she said.