Steven Falzarano huddled in the front of St. Lucy’s Shelter in Jersey City on a cold day a week before Thanksgiving, grateful for the heat.
A truck driver by trade, he’s come to rely on meals in a number of local churches these days, partly because he doesn’t make enough on unemployment to pay even the modest rent of $535 a month he used to pay in Kearny. He still hopes to get back that place, although he needs a job first.
He wants to get a job driving, but he still needs to pay fees in order to get his truck certification back. He still has $400 pay off, and hopes to use part of his last three weeks of unemployment to do it. This means he relies on the charity of places like St. Lucy’s to eat and sleep.
For most of the last few years, he’s been doing warehouse work when he can find it. He’s been unemployed 40 of the last 60 months – although he said he has prospects for future jobs.
He currently has been out of work for 14 months straight, he said.
He gets meals at a number of places, but always ends up at St. Lucy’s for supper and a place to sleep.
“We just wanted to give people here a full Thanksgiving meal.” – Allison Miller
For a man as down and out as he is, he said this made him feel good.
“I appreciate them remembering us here,” he said. “I’ve been to their places a few times.”
CarePoint Health owns three hospitals in Hudson County: Hoboken University Medical Center, Christ Hospital in Jersey City and Bayonne Medical Center – as well as a number of walk in centers and private medical practices.
“We just wanted to give people here a full Thanksgiving meal,” said Allison Miller, VP for public relations, who was among the CarePoint workers dishing out food.
The dining room had about 40 people ranging in age from mid-20s to mid-80s, some talking, but most focused on the dishes of food, showing their appreciation for the grub with steady conception.
Miller, however, said she and others on the CarePoint staff had served as many as 125 people.
A steady flow of people continued to arrive, filling their plates, and then taking their place at any vacant seat among the tables.
Many of them also carried new knit hats, scarves, and sweaters CarePoint gave as gifts, to help them deal with the deep chill just coming with the end of autumn.
“We sleep and eat here,” Falzarano said. “But during the day, we have to leave.”
He uses that time to look for work. Others at the shelter seek warmth elsewhere.
Miller said CarePoint workers are visiting all of the shelters ahead of Thanksgiving, but also making a point to give to food pantries that are overwhelmed at this time of year.
In the past, Bayonne Medical Center gave turkeys to the shelters in Bayonne. This year, CarePoint is giving $1,000 checks to each food pantry to make certain they do not run out of food. Hospital officials had already gone to Bayonne and other venues and had plans to visit additional pantries in Hoboken, Jersey City, and North Hudson.
“We’re trying to help those places that help the neediest people,” Miller said. “These people depend on these places.”
Many of those who come to shelters and food pantries also end up in hospital emergency rooms, and so the health workers were not necessarily strangers to them.
Falzarano said he has been treated in local hospitals.
“There’s a lot of stress being out of work,” he said.
Stress often contributes as much to illness as lack of a good diet and walking around in the cold.
One woman named Sharon, a resident at the shelter, paused from eating to smile and say she was very grateful for the meal, saying that she wouldn’t have had Thanksgiving otherwise.
Karen Stewart, director of Marketing and Public Relations for CarePoint, was among the staff handing out clothing.
“This is about CarePoint’s commitment to the community,” she said. “These are often the same people the hospital serves.”
Indeed, CarePoint’s walk in centers, established earlier this year, were partly designed to help uninsured people.
“Part of why we’re here is to give people hope and we believe the gift of clothing will be useful,” she said.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.