Coming together to provide Thanksgiving cheer in Lynbrook, East Rockaway


It was last Thanksgiving when Burger Bandit owner Ryan Straschnow was returning to his restaurant to pick up some foil and encountered a hungry homeless man. He brought the man inside his establishment and cooked him a meal, which he said brought him a lot of joy and sparked an idea.

This Thanksgiving, Straschnow and more than a dozen volunteers will participate in the inaugural Banditgiving event, where they will cook about 500 meals to deliver to homeless shelters on Long Island and in Queens.

“I feel like a good person doing it,” Straschnow said. “I feel like I’m actually making a difference. Even if it’s one hot meal, it’ll put a smile on their face.”

Straschnow said his mother, Aksana, and his girlfriend, Gabriella Sapoznik, were talking about volunteering at a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving when he asked what they thought of his idea, and they agreed it would be a nice thing to do for those in need on the holiday.

Burger Bandit is closed for Thanksgiving Day, but the kitchen will be plenty busy. At 9 a.m., Straschnow and his helpers will start preparing meals at the restaurant and volunteers will drive the food to homeless shelters in Hempstead, Freeport, Rockville Centre, Queens and other areas. Straschnow said he is not asking his employees to help, but some may volunteer.

The group will be preparing a Thanksgiving burger, which is a turkey burger with cornbread stuffing and gravy that will be served with cranberry sauce and sweet potato fries. Straschnow said about 10 people will help him in the kitchen and about a dozen others have volunteered to deliver the meals. He added that he hoped to drop the meals to each shelter by 2 p.m.

“Doing something this massive is a lot of work,” Straschnow said. “But it’s like a weight off my shoulders.”

Others have pitched in, Straschnow said, noting that distributors who deliver to his restaurant offered reduced price burger patties and donated buns. All of the restaurant’s proceeds for November also went toward preparing the meals.

Straschnow took over Burger Bandit in July 2017, just two months after graduating from Johnson & Wales with a degree in culinary arts, food management and hospitality, and revamped the menu. He grew up in the food business, he said, noting that his parents owned a catering company.

He said he is still seeking volunteers to help in the kitchen or deliver the food, and donations like ketchup and empty boxes are also being accepted. To volunteer or donate to the cause, call (646) 512-1199 or (516) 593-4015, or stop over at 2 Broadway in Lynbrook.

“Why go volunteer at a soup kitchen when we can provide the food?” Straschnow said. “It’s a great way to get people in the community to volunteer as well.”

Thanksgiving friendship and fellowship will also be on display at Bethany Congregational Church in East Rockaway.

For the ninth straight year, the church is offering a free Thanksgiving Day dinner, including a turkey with all the trimmings and sides, from noon to 3 p.m., at the church’s Parish Hall. The event is a tradition that ensures that no one goes hungry or has to spend the holiday alone, according to Barbara Herrmann, who organizes the dinner each year with her husband, Douglas.

“It’s just Bethany’s way of reaching out to the community,” Herrmann said. “It really is a community event.”

Mike Carver of East Rockaway donated turkeys for the cause and many parishioners contributed homemade food, silverware and other items for the dinner. Herrmann said she expects anywhere up to 100 people to come to the event, including from other parishes like Our Lady of Peace, in Lynbrook, which once again hosted its own food drive led by Sister Barbara Faber and members of the Lynbrook Police Benevolent Association.

Herrmann said the group accepts volunteers from all different parishes and that the community is so tight-knit that often they don’t have enough tasks for all the volunteers they receive. She added that she expects about 20 volunteers this year.

Because she has been busy with the Bethany dinner each year, Herrmann said, her family usually postpones its own Thanksgiving feast to the day after the holiday. Her family will join her at Bethany on Thursday and then she will host a small family dinner on Friday, she added. “I enjoy it,” she said. “It really means a lot to me because I think it’s important.”

Herrmann said that over the years, a lot of people she otherwise would have never met have become familiar faces and that many people come for the fellowship. She said some people come because they are from lower income families, while others come for the camaraderie.

She added that the tradition makes her happy and she enjoys being able to give back to the community. “I really don’t want to see anyone alone for the holiday because there’s no reason for it,” she said. “It’s open to all at no cost. It’s our way of saying Happy Thanksgiving to the community.”