PLEASANTVILLE — Inside the engine bay of the city fire department Friday morning, an assembly line of firefighters worked to pack sweet potatoes, peppers, celery and oranges into bags before stacking them onto a pallet.
Christmas music played through the speakers as volunteers set up tables and cones, preparing for noon, when they’d began to give away 250 turkey dinners with all the trimmings to city residents.
“I think it’s great,” said Linda Hare, who got in line about 10:30 a.m. “I think it’s very graceful of Pleasantville to take this duty on.”
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It’s the second year that the fire department is working with the Community FoodBank of New Jersey to provide holiday meals to city residents, with volunteers from both organizations working to help residents pack meals into boxes and take them to into their cars or walk back to their homes.
In the first half hour, about 50 holiday dinners left the station.
Firefighter Sam Johnson, a 19-year veteran, was first approached by the food bank last year to help distribute meals for Thanksgiving and Christmas, he said.
“I thought it was an excellent opportunity to give back to the citizens of Pleasantville,” Johnson said. “It’s very gratifying for me, personally, to see people you see on a daily basis and they come in and give you hugs and high fives. It just feels like family.”
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The fire department was on their second day of back-to-back events aimed at giving back to the community. On Thursday, firefighters were at the South Main Street School to give kids winter coats. Before the turkey giveaway, they were at the Leeds Avenue School for another coat giveaway.
“We try to give back as much as we can,” Johnson said.
Even though there are eight food pantries in the city, they don’t have the capacity to meet the community’s needs ahead of big holiday dinners, explained Kimberly Arroyo, director of agency relations and programs for the food bank.
“This was an opportunity for the food bank to make sure everybody has a holiday meal and also to engage the community,” Arroyo said, adding that the event connects public service and the nonprofit.
As Hare made her way around the engine bay, firefighters loaded a turkey, a bag of produce and finally a box with stuffing, cranberry sauce and gravy into a cart she pushed ahead of her.
“I appreciate it very, very much,” Hare said. “There’s some negativity in Pleasantville just like any other city, but the government is good and the authorities are awesome.”
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