Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Food for Thought on Holiday

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Food for Thought on Holiday

Article excerpt

HACKENSACK -- For Sean, the last two years were marked by a daunting and disappointing search for a new job, and the irony was not lost on him as he sat down to a donated feast.

Food preparation used to be his focus. But the city resident was laid off from his position as a cook at an Englewood restaurant because business had declined. The father of a boy living with autism hasn't found work since, and on Thursday he was the one being served at the Salvation Army's annual holiday breakfast and turkey giveaway.

"I never thought I'd be in this situation," Sean, 37, said as he packed up an extra meal for his 4 1/2-year-old son. "I always worked hard, never asked for anything from anybody. The tables turned."

Hundreds of Bergen County families, still struggling in the lingering aftermath of the country's Great Recession, gathered for the Thanksgiving breakfast in the basement of the Second Reformed Church. Scores of Salvation Army volunteers dished out plates of pancakes, eggs, sausage and bacon and gave people turkeys as they left.

In between cooking and cleanup, organizers offered their views on solutions to the troubled economy. Salvation Army board member Sandy Sroka said the holiday meal and organization itself are addressing people's basic needs, but that the answer to their employment woes rests with the government: It needs to cut the price tag of education for those looking to retool their job skills.

"We need to make education on the community college level affordable," Sroka said. "Give them the tools."

Sean himself acknowledged the practicality and pragmatism of that option, saying his plan to pull himself out of unemployment is to pursue a culinary arts degree.

Turnout for the holiday breakfast, now in its third year, has steadily crept up, from fewer than 300 the first year to more than 400 on Thursday. …

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