Giving thanks, after all

Sharing a holiday feast at Bethany Congregational Church in East Rockaway


It’s been a longstanding tradition for Bethany Congregational Church to host its annual Thanksgiving dinner for those who are homeless, alone, or just wanted to communally share a very American tradition first enjoyed by the Pilgrims and the Indians in 1621.

But this year was special — unfortunately so — because due to a big wind called Sandy that came through the area on Oct. 29, many more residents and their neighbors were without heat, electric or gas with which to cook their holiday dinner — and more than one hundred of them came to share a delicious meal with all the trimmings, visit with neighbors, or talk about how the recent hurricane turned their lives upside down.

“Though the great storm raged, and took so much from so many of us,” said Bethany’s Pastor Mark Lukens during his welcoming prayer, “ … we are here still with our lives, with people we care about, that we are a community that you have blessed …”

The Hendrickson family, Aimee, Ann and Jason, of Rockaway Park, came to the Bethany with their friend Nancy French, of Cedarhurst. “We live one block from Breezy Point,” said Jason. “I was on the boardwalk when the ocean met the bay, when we got hit was a14-foot storm surge. I had just a few seconds to get the my mother.”

Manning the dessert table was the Murphy-Appello family, who also brought some CVS gift cards for the attendees. “It’s been a great day for us,” said Trish, who graduated from East Rockaway High School and now lives in Merrick with her family. “Once you live in East Rockaway, you never lose your roots — you always come back.” Trish was joined by her husband, Pete, and their children Kate, 14, and Jack, 12.

“So many people contributed to this day,” said Jo Leonski, a church member and a Centre Avenue resident. “Not just from East Rockaway, but from different communities.” She said that she made it through the storm OK, although she was without electric or heat for 11 days and had a broken garage door. “The worst of it was the cold, and just listening to the emergency vehicles and the news choppers overhead. But so many other people had it a lot worse.”