Text and photos by Gregory A. Shemitz

The parish hall of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Church in Wyandanch was humming with activity on Sunday, Nov. 19, as approximately 150 volunteers of various ages and faith backgrounds worked feverishly to assemble bags of Thanksgiving Day food that would be distributed to people in need living in the communities surrounding the church.

It took less than 45 minutes for the volunteers to pack 320 large, heavy-duty tote bags with fresh and canned vegetables, stuffing, cranberry sauce, cornbread, dry pasta, cake mix, a two liter bottle of Coke, and a baking tray. The bags, along with a frozen turkey and additional provisions, were given to recipients on Monday and Tuesday.

The staff of the Gerald J. Ryan Outreach Center—a not-for-profit organization located on the campus of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal serving the people of Wyandanch, Wheatley Heights and a section of West Babylon—coordinated the collection, packaging and distribution of the food, and managed the volunteers. The charity has been running the Thanksgiving week event for nearly 40 years.

Parishioners and non-parishioners convened at the church on Sunday to assist the effort. Members of Temple Beth Torah in Melville and several non-Catholic Christian congregations from across Long Island were among the people donating their time to the cause. For many of them, participating in this activity has become an annual tradition.

Jay Shreck, his wife and two children, now 20 and 19, have helped pack bags at the church every year for the past 15 years. Feeding the poor gives the Lindenhurst family a clearer appreciation of their personal blessings.

“It makes our (Thanksgiving) dinner taste so much better,” said Mr. Shreck.

“It’s a blessing for all people to come together to help people who are less fortunate. And they do it with a positive attitude,” commented Joe Gibbons, board president of the Ryan Outreach Center. “This is what the season should be about for everybody, the concept of giving, unselfishness.”

The center is dedicated to the memory of Rockville Centre Auxiliary Bishop Gerald J. Ryan.  Bishop Ryan began his priestly ministry at Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal and was committed to serving the poor and marginalized of the diocese. A former director of Catholic Charities, he died in 1985 at age 61.