ONEIDA — Oneida-based organizations are doing everything they can this holiday season to give back to local families in the face of growing need.
The partnership between the Oneida Rotary Club and Church on the Rock has continued for the third year in a row to provide home-cooked Thanksgiving dinners to area residents. Those who sign up will receive canned corn and green beans, stuffing mix, cranberry sauce, at least three small cakes, a bag of chips, bread, a turkey and a baking pan, all at no cost to them.
This year, 105 dinner packages will fill the stomachs of families in need. While the impact is quite significant, this number is down from last year’s 200+ units.
Officials say many donors have not been able to give as much as in previous years, which is one reason for the decline. However, as word of this reality spread, some private donors made sure an additional 50 turkeys were available for the cause, Church on the Rock pastor Jeff Leahey said. Those will be given away without the other ingredients.
The church purchases the turkeys each year, mainly through grants, and the Rotarian covers the rest out of its own means. Donors to Rotary this year included Oneida Savings Foundation, Bimbo Bakery, Carlo Masi Sons and Daughters, NY Central Mutual and Walmart.
In the past, Oneida Rotary hosted a Thanksgiving dinner at the Kallet Theater for everyone to come together. The event was not just about filling a need in the community, but also about fostering a greater sense of togetherness. COVID-19 put an end to that tradition, so the group of volunteers began partnering with Church on the Rock to provide grab-and-go dinners.
While the camaraderie may seem lost, there are positive things that have been gained, such as extra leftovers for the families they serve, said Oneida Rotary president Vincent Mellon.
Leahey said every dinner and turkey has already been accounted for this year, but that’s not a surprise. She has seen the need for social services skyrocket in Oneida, and in particular the need for food.
The Church on the Rock serves free hot lunch Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Attendance here has nearly doubled of late, Leahey said. About 30 volunteers have been serving between 100 and 125 people weekly, and participation continues to be strong every day.
Along with their hot meal, visitors can also explore the church’s food pantry and available clothing. However, food is the number one need, Leahey said.
One shocking development has been that more lower-middle-class families are taking advantage of available resources, Leahey said, that they don’t often see.
This increased need overall has a lot to do with the high grocery bills families now face, he said.
Despite these challenges, volunteers from both organizations are determined to make an impact at home. Many of those who take advantage of the Thanksgiving treat are from across the city, Leahey said.
The population on Oneida’s north side is one that is heavily served, but this community has also given back, with those who were once helped often turning around and helping when they can, Leahey said.
As visitors pick up their meals at Church on the Rock on Saturday and Tuesday, Leahey hopes her team can learn more about the people there and connect them with any other resources they may need. “The people who come have many other needs,” she said. “This year we are trying to slow everything down. Have conversations with people. Look how they are doing it. Let them know that we are here and that there are other organizations here to help and support them.”
“There are a lot of different organizations that are willing to help if you’re willing to step up,” Mellon said. If you are willing to help, you can send donations to Church on the Rock online at www.yourcotr.com/giving. The money sent can be used for next year’s holiday party, Leahey said. For volunteer and other opportunities, call the church at 315-280-4044.