WE NEED YOUR HELP — Support your hometown newspaper by making a donation.

Volunteers in Bellmore, Merrick give back to give thanks

Lions, Kiwanis clubs step up during pandemic


Volunteers throughout Bellmore and Merrick are giving back this Thanksgiving.

Last Saturday, Connect Church of Bellmore hosted its annual Families Feeding Families event. The Rev. John Gravagna said that 140 families registered to receive all the fixings to prepare a Thanksgiving spread, which were provided in a drive-through distribution because of the coronavirus pandemic. Donations were collected at food drives.

“In a lot of ways, these families depend upon us going the extra mile,” Gravagna said. “We make sure not only to feed them but pray with them and ask for God’s blessing upon their lives.”

Gravagna estimated that 100 volunteers pitched in during the distribution, including church parishioners, John F. Kennedy High School students, and members of the local Kiwanis and Lions clubs.

Bellmore Kiwanis made a large donation to help Connect Church feed participating families, club President Andrew Meyerowitz said. “Any of the families that we normally deal with, we direct to [Gravagna] so they can get Thanksgiving meals,” he said. “They’re doing a ton of work and a ton of good.”

Also doing good are members of Merrick Kiwanis, who have organized food drives to collect donations for the Bellmore-Merrick Community Cupboard, the Central High School District’s food pantry. “Traditionally we have centered on families with school-aged children,” Kiwanis President Martin Valk said, “but we felt the need was so great that we had to go beyond that.

“Nobody is immune [to] this virus — it’s striking every single group of our community,” Valk said, “and with people staying home looking for something to do, it’s the perfect time to volunteer to help your fellow man. Isn’t that what the holiday season is all about?”

The local Lions clubs are also helping to ensure that needy residents are well fed on Thanksgiving. Camille Raia, president of Bellmore Lions, said that Wellington C. Mepham High School’s Leo Club helped her members pack 90 food baskets to support the Community Cupboard’s families.

This year, Merrick Lions “did something that hadn’t been done before,” President Michelle Gagnon said. Members distributed fliers  asking for donations to benefit the food pantries at Curé of Ars and Sacred Heart churches. Gagnon called the effort “very successful.”

“Most people are very generous anyway, but this year it seemed like they were more compassionate,” she said. “Because so many people are listening to the news, they have a better understanding of how difficult it is, and how hunger is devastating. The pandemic is creating a huge hardship on almost everybody.”

Although quarantining has prevented many people from feeling a sense of community, Gravagna said volunteering during the holidays could help restore that. “To be able to do something like this and put a smile on their faces . . . I wish that everyone would be able to experience this kind of generosity at least once in their life — to be part of something bigger than themselves,” he said.