Even a pandemic couldn’t stop VersAbility Resources from continuing a tradition that’s more than a decade old: offering Thanksgiving dinner to people with disabilities.
The nonprofit, which provides support services to more than 1,300 disabled residents and families on the Peninsula and Middle Peninsula, typically hosts a holiday gathering for everyone it serves, but precautions due to COVID-19 forced a celebration of a different sort.
Staffers handed off boxed meals of turkey dinners via a makeshift drive-thru on Tuesday at VersAbility’s Hampton and Gloucester locations. More than 300 received meals, including all who live in the nonprofit’s 10 group homes scattered about Newport News, Hampton and Yorktown.
Crowdfunding on social media – which brought in over $1,200 alone – and support from Kiwanis Clubs of Division 13 made the effort possible. Paradise Ocean Club in Hampton supplied the fixings that also included mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce, rolls and apple and pumpkin pie.
“The regional Kiwanis Groups were determined to still find a way to provide Thanksgiving,” said Kasia Grzelkowski, president and CEO of VersAbility Resources. “They came up with the idea of catered boxed lunches that we could deliver safely. Our houses are coming through and picking up lunches for all the individuals who live there and our staff, who are working so hard and around the clock to keep people safe at our homes.”
Yet this wasn’t your typical grab-and-go.
VersAbility had to furlough its disabled workers last spring because of concerns about virus transmission. Their presence is missed. When one van pulled up a half dozen workers who live together in a group home, they were greeted with warm hellos, blown kisses and thumbs-up signs from current staffers.
Staffer Jean Witcher waved a pom-pom and peered through the glass of the passenger windows, reminding each of them how special they are.
“We miss you!” she exclaimed.
“I truly miss them,” she said. “I miss their smiles. Every day is not the same without them.”
Handmade poster board signs welcomed cars with messages that read, “We miss everybody” and “VersAbility is thankful for you.”
Activity kits with coloring books, pencils, paints and popcorn were passed on to those have been unable to participate in VersAbility’s recreational programs, temporarily shut down due to COVID.
Staffer Demetria Harris picked up a half dozen meals for the residents of one Newport News group home.
“This is about more than a turkey dinner,” she said. “They are our family. It’s really good to have this this year because of the pandemic. There’s a lot of things you can’t do, but this isn’t going to stop us from getting together and celebrating.”