Editor’s Note: This story was written by and republished with the permission of Ithaca Week, a weekly magazine produced by the students of the Advanced Multimedia Journalism class at the Roy H. Park School of Communications, Ithaca College.

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While everything in Collegetown may be closed this Thanksgiving, Aladdin’s Natural Eatery is opening it’s doors to those in need for a complimentary meal. In a city with a poverty rate of 46.7 percent, according to the 2014 New York State Poverty Report, there are a lot of mouths to feed.

The idea to help people who have no where to go on Thanksgiving happened around the owner of the restaurant’s own dinner table. Samuel Schuepbach and his wife talked about the idea two years ago around the holidays. Schuepbach started making plans two months ago with the support of his wife, three step-daughters and his staff. The meal will also be open to the public, for a $12 donation.

“This is one of those things where I don’t know if 20 people show up or there’s 300,” Schuepbach said. “We are preparing for a decent number, that’s why [the flyer] says ‘until the turkey is gone.’ We are done when there’s no more food.”

To spread the word about the event, Schuepbach reached out to Loaves & Fishes of Tompkins County, a christian ministry that provides hospitality and advocacy to those in need. Together they are attempting to coordinate with Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit (TCAT) to get people from the downtown area bused up to the restaurant on East Hill, Schuepbach said.

Staff at Alladin’s

He also asked Mayor Svante Myrick to share the flyer with the public through social media, and it received over 500 ‘likes’ and  nearly 300 ‘shares’ on Facebook. A few people in the community volunteered after hearing about it, and now about 10 or 12 in total are helping with the Thanksgiving meal, Schuepbach said.

For some of Schuepbach’s employees, helping others during hardships hits close to home. One employee and volunteer for the event Kim Mead has experienced difficult times in the past, but was able to get by with support from others. She hopes to give back this Thanksgiving by volunteering her time at Aladdin’s event, and expressed that if people don’t have a place to go to on Thanksgiving “they’re more than welcome to come here.”

“It’s wonderful that they want to step out of a comfort zone, and I’m sure it is stepping out of a comfort zone, and open their doors to people to give like that,” Barb Place said of Aladdin’s complimentary meal event. Place has used several services from Tompkins Community Action(TCAction), including their housing voucher and food pantry programs. “It’s wonderful that they want to bring people there.”

The median yearly income of the 10,504 people living in poverty in Ithaca is just over $31,000, according to the 2014 New York State Poverty Report conducted by the New York State Action Association. With that budget, some 38 percent of children in Tompkins County are eligible for the free or reduced lunch program at school.

Canned food and turkey drives usually only happen during November and December. Executive Director of TCAction Lee Dillon, who runs the local chapter of the national non-profit organization focused on helping people in poverty, said that events during the holidays are important, but that sometimes doesn’t allow people to understand the bigger issues in poverty, such as child care, housing, employment, transportation and access to food.

“Certainly stepping out of your comfort zone and helping someone out is a good thing, that’s never a bad thing. I think you have to get involved,” Dillon said. “Giving some canned food out of your pantry is a great thing, but I am not sure if that relieves people [from the problem].”

When people are in poverty, Dillon said, they don’t have the same opportunities as others because they don’t have the same social network to give them connections for training and job opportunities.

By creating gatherings like the meal at Aladdin’s, people in all walks of life can meet. Then, Dillon said, preconceived notions about those who experience poverty can be dissolved and friendships can form.

“You can go to those places and build relationships over time. Poverty is isolating. So, I can go there and have a meal with people that I am getting to know,” Dillon said. “Conversely, this becomes a network where you get your needs met and more.”

Other resources in Tompkins County:

– List of Assistance Programs
– Food Bank of the Southern Tier 
– Tompkins Community Action (Food Pantry: M 2:30 – 4:30pm; T 10:30am – 1:30pm
Salvation Army of Ithaca – Ithaca Kitchen Cupboard (Food Pantry: M – F, 1:30 – 3:00pm)
– Loaves and Fishes of Tompkins County (M,W,F 12 – 1PM;  T,TR 5:30 – 6:30pm)
– Catholic Charities – Clothing Closet (T – F, 9am – 12pm and 1pm – 4pm)


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.