Giving the gift of holiday hope

Bethlehem Assembly of God treats families to Thanksgiving dinners


The Bethlehem Assembly of God, in Valley Stream, wrapped up another successful annual Thanksgiving event by distributing their “Boxes of Hope” the weekend before the holiday, feeding 700 families in Valley Stream, Springfield Gardens and Rosedale.

The church works together with its House of Hope food pantry to make a difference by helping feed many during the holiday season. Every year, the church packs the Boxes of Hope with a turkey and all the trimmings, so families in need can have full Thanksgiving dinners.

Some 550 of the 700 families received a box of traditional Thanksgiving food and a turkey, and 150 received a box of Thanksgiving food and canned goods.

The pickup location for the food was Wheeler Avenue School in Valley Stream. The church also partnered with Public School 52 in Springfield Gardens and its campus in Rosedale, where families were also able to pick up boxes.

Jenna Gentry, daughter of Bethlehem Assembly of God’s pastor, Steven Milazzo, worked at the church and is a veteran volunteer at the pantry food drive event.

“We set a goal of how many families we’re going to feed, and we try to give the children their hot meals because a lot of them live in shelters, close to the school,” Gentry said.

“Normally, a lot of the donations come in from other organizations, but this year because of widespread turkey flu, combined with the current inflation rates, it was difficult to get donations.” 

With the added challenges faced this year, the Valley Stream Chamber of Commerce stepped in to lend a holiday hand. The church is a member of the Chamber of Commerce, and one of the pantry directors and employees expressed the need for turkeys. A handful of businesses offered to help out with the drive and provided a significant amount of the festive fowl. Nicole Eliopoulos of State Farm, Chamber President Sasan Shavanson of One In A Million Inc, and Juan Reyes of Ace Landscaping, helped out by providing 178 turkeys to include in the packages given to each family.

Reyes spoke at the Chamber meeting last month when the church asked for help and offered to donate 25 turkeys. Shavanson and Eliopoulos then offered to match it. “They didn’t use any funds from the Chamber,” Gentry said. “It was just these three specific businesses. They found out about it at the chamber meeting.”

The church began its food collection Oct. 16 and despite the difficulties this year, the church had a successful food drive.

“We started putting our heads together and seeing what we could come up with,” Gentry said. “And we went out and we were buying turkeys and did whatever we could do. Because there was the turkey flu, stores were limiting how many turkeys you could get, but Nicole just pressed on, and she did whatever she could to help us get the turkeys. She and Juan and Sasan were coming almost every night during the week to drop off more turkeys. They were so dedicated to helping us and we were so unbelievably grateful for them.”

Each of the chamber members was honored in front of the church congregation, Sunday morning, Nov. 20 for their help in the food drive.

Gentry has been going to church all her life and after assisting with the food drive for the last three years, she loves to be able to give back.

“What I love best is seeing the change that we’re bringing to the community and truly helping the people that don’t have anything or can’t provide a Thanksgiving meal,” she said. “When you go into the outreaches and see how grateful they are when they’re receiving this box and this turkey, it changes your whole perspective.”

The Church provided another 150 turkeys and delivered them directly to the House of Hope food pantry clients, who get food from the pantry on a bi-weekly basis. People from the congregation adopted a family and delivered  food directly to them on Nov. 20.

“I went with my husband, and my son because we adopted a family and the woman was so grateful,” Gentry said. “She was appreciative that someone was able to provide a meal for her.”

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