By Elizabeth Fisher
Special to the CS&T

BRISTOL – To the members of St. Ann Parish in Bristol, Thanksgiving means wielding a long spoon. They not only give thanks to God for their own blessings, they make the holiday dinner possible for families who can’t otherwise afford a turkey and the trimmings.

In the past 14 years, the congregation has opened its collective purse to provide Thanksgiving baskets to those in need regardless of religious affiliation. To date, 2,000 families have been helped through the Thanksgiving food drive. {{more}}

The first year of the program saw about 100 households sign up, but the number keeps growing, especially in tough economic times. This year, about 180 families will get help, said Father James Day, O.SS.T., pastor of St. Ann.

The annual giveaway is the parishioners’ way of emulating Blessed Mother Teresa, who spent her life working for the poor, Father Day said.

Here’s how the process works: Early in November, Father Day puts an ad in the Sunday bulletin and in the local newspaper so that any member of the parish, or any resident who needs to, can register by a certain date for a basket. Several family members gather on the Sunday before Thanksgiving to assemble the food items that are picked up on the Tuesday before the holiday.

Donny Petolillo, a restaurant owner in the town, orders about a ton of turkeys, through his wholesaler. For weeks, worshippers come to church bringing canned vegetables, cranberry sauce, instant mashed potatoes, packets of turkey gravy and other items.

If any food items fall short, several parish families go food shopping to make up the difference. Then the church basement is spanided into stations where those who preregistered can collect the food.

“There are new faces every year, especially now with the economy,” said Lou Galzerano, a parishioner who, with his wife Carol, make up one of the founding families. “I’ve had people tell me that they never thought they’d have to do this.”

The other founding families are: Petolillo, Ralph and Monica DiGuiseppe, Marie Antonelli, Robyn Trunell, John Cordisco and Ernie and Ann Marie DeCaro.

Ralph DiGuiseppe, the president of the borough council, said that he’s seen so many people who are “hurting really bad.” Monica DiGuiseppe said she hopes that the food drive will continue to be a hallmark of St. Ann Parish’s efforts to feed the poor.

“I feel really blessed and I think of that every day. I ask, why me? But this is our way of helping people and a way to let our kids know not to take anything for granted. I hope the next generation continues this long after we’re gone,” she said.

Elizabeth Fisher is a freelance journalist and member of St. Mark Parish in Bristol.