For the past 33 years, Runyon’s, in Seaford, has provided homemade Thanksgiving meals to families and individuals in need in Nassau and Suffolk County.
This year is no different, as the restaurant’s goal is to deliver 1,800 meals. Staff members delivered 1,730 meals in 2017.
The annual “Thanks-4-Giving” outreach began in 1984 when Runyon’s owners, Tony and Grail McGinley, sought to give back to the surrounding communities, according to Runyon’s Office Manager Liz Lisnoff-Stacy.
The dinner has gone through many variations over the years, Lisnoff-Stacy said. The couple used to invite people to the restaurant for dinner before finding that a greater need was to go to people who are homebound — the elderly, the sick, those who recently had surgery, those struggling financially and more.
Lisnoff-Stacy said the food donations come from customers, purveyors, employees and anyone who can donate what Runyon’s needs. This year, Runyon’s is seeking donations of turkeys, Virginia hams, canned yams, vegetables, cranberry sauce, instant mashed potatoes, sponsorships for packing supplies and more.
All the food is donated straight to the restaurant, and the preparations for the outreach began the week of Nov. 5, Lisnoff-Stacy said. All of the meat and the gravy are cooked on site. A former employee, who is a chef, cooks potatoes for the meals.
The meals come in plain brown shopping bags, which have been decorated by Boy Scouts and local schools. Lisnoff-Stacy said the ideal meal would have both turkey and ham, potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, vegetables, gravy, a bread roll and pat of butter and a desert. One bag is delivered to every individual in a family in need.
Hundreds of volunteers — a majority of whom are family, friends, customers and staff of the restaurant — arrive around 5 a.m. on Thanksgiving to slice the turkey, carve the ham, fill cups with vegetables and help in any way they can. Around 8 a.m., the volunteer drivers arrive.
“We do take some precautions…” Lisnoff-Stacy said. “We want people paired up, whether you come with a buddy or we give you a buddy, because safety is a concern.”
Lisnoff-Stacy said confidentiality is a factor, as the various organizations that participate in helping families receive the meals — such as Catholic Charities, Meals on Wheels, the South Shore Association for Independent Living Inc., churches and other outreach groups — give Runyon’s the contact information of people in need.
Grail McGinley died in 2015. “I’ll even get choked up talking about her, and I did not even know her that well,” Lisnoff-Stacy said. “That is why I come in and spend the hours and spend the time.”
McGinley’s sister-in-law and her children are still very involved in the Thanksgiving outreach, Lisnoff-Stacy said. “The children, who are in their 20s, live in California, and one is in school in Boston right now; and they are still reaching out to the volunteers and coordinating times and running the website.”
Lisnoff-Stacy said she receives many phone calls from the meal recipients, either for the meal they will receive, or are just lonely and looking for someone to talk to. After the meals go out, the restaurant also receives thank you letters and calls. “People are genuinely appreciative, and that’s just who Grail was,” she said.
Lisnoff-Stacy said she thinks it is amazing that Runyons does this every year. “It’s just one of those things that grew,” she said.
If you are interested in volunteering or donating to the “Thanks-4-Giving” outreach, visit https://www.runyonsthanksgiving.com/.