NEWINGTON â€“ It was all hands on deck outside Stew Leonardâ€™s Thursday morning.
About 350 turkeys were stacked beside the Berlin Turnpike grocery by store staff before Newington Volunteer Firefighters from Company 1 arrived on the scene. Representatives from 14 different charities, churches and missions lined up in the parking lot to have their vehicles stuffed to the brim with birds. News media snapped a quick picture before the Turkey Brigade got to work.
â€śStew Leonardâ€™s has been a part of Newington for 13 years and this is just part of having a good connection with the people in this community,â€ť said Jamie DiStefano, vice president of the Newington store.
Along with efforts at its other stores in New York and southern Connecticut, Stew Leonardâ€™s is slated to donate more than 3,000 turkeys to food insecure people this Thanksgiving. This marks the companyâ€™s 41st annual Turkey Brigade.
The number of people facing economic hardship has increased drastically during the era of the coronavirus, rendering the demand for emergency food assistance higher than ever. Food banks and food pantries around the state are reporting record levels of food insecurity due to pandemic-related unemployment and business closures.
â€śThe pandemic has been pretty stressful for a lot of people, making this one of the most important years for us to continue this tradition,â€ť DiStefano said.
Newington firefighters helped store staff pack the vehicles in quick fashion as the cold breeze whipped around them.
â€śNewington Fire partners with Stewâ€™s every year for this,â€ť firefighter Sal Garofalo said. â€śThey always help us with our fundraisers so we like to help them out when we can.â€ť
Fire Commissioner Kent Stoddard watched as his team went to work.
â€śItâ€™s really just part of our DNA,â€ť Stoddard said of giving back. â€śWe spend our lives helping people.â€ť
Happening at the exact same time across town, another group of Newington firefighters was delivering meals to residents as part of the Newington Senior & Disabled Centerâ€™s congregate lunch program, the commissioner said.
New Britainâ€™s Peace Missionary Ministries and the New Horizon Living Center of Bristol were both among the local organizations which took turkeys back to their home bases to distribute them to families in need this holiday.
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at email@example.com.