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River Fund serves thousands of families for Thanksgiving, inspiring acts of kindness across Queens

Nov. 22, 2023 By Anthony Medina

The River Fund, a nonprofit organization serving and feeding people in poverty for over 30 years, tended to thousands of families in need of help just in time for Thanksgiving in Richmond Hill on Saturday. Nov. 18.

Thousands of people waited in a line stretching 15 blocks from the River Fund house, located at 89-11 Lefferts Blvd. in Richmond Hill, to get their hands on free produce, turkeys and health care items before the holiday.

Sharon Ramoutar, a Woodhaven resident, living in a home of six, said she knew how the River Fund provided eggs, pasta, canned goods and more items on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The food she collected goes to more than herself. She does what she can to share what she’s received with others, so despite the long wait, Ramoutar said, “I don’t care how long the line is.”

The massive line for the River Fund house traveled for blocks in Richmond Hill. Photo by Anthony Medina

At the River Fund house, volunteers worked tirelessly to ensure everyone who stood in line went home with the groceries and supplies.

On top of the turkeys and canned products, there were feminine hygiene care packages with tampons and pads. In another bag, beauty products such as perfumes were ready for collection. A variety of winter coats and socks for people to take home also added to the plethora of goods given at the community event.

A line of volunteers at the River Fund house makes sure to fill every bag with produce and more. Photo by Anthony Medina

Swami Durga Das, the founder and CEO of the River Fund, has helped feed and service thousands of families weekly since the start of the organization. Swami said part of what keeps the motivation alive are the seniors and children that come to the River Fund.

“It’s heartbreaking to watch a senior be on the line and know that they’re not going to get off this line,” Swami said. “But at least with the kids, we can try to work in getting them more balanced where they can get an education and get a job. You know? Get that piece of paper that gives them the job of choice, not a choice that they have to take.”

All of the organization’s efforts brought about what volunteers said was a sense of normalcy. Even the organization’s volunteers like Bernie Bowles could see the impact of giving back to the community, especially during this time of year.

“The need is great,” said Bowles. “Wednesdays we do at least 1,200 families and Saturdays, even regular Saturdays, we’ve been running around 1,800 families.”

Bundled from head to toe to combat the winter weather. Photo by Anthony Medina

On Wednesdays, the organization focuses on serving senior citizens, while Saturdays are the more robust days for the food pantry. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, the fund saw a greater need for help from the community and doubled its efforts.

“We haven’t really gotten back to pre-COVID and I don’t think we will as far as numbers. I think that with inflation, and when you have the migrant crisis, I think with all that happening, the line will continue to get longer and the need will continue to be there,” said Karina Izquierdo, director of programs at The River Fund New York.

A prepackaged bag of perfumes and more were available for grabs.Photo by Anthony Medina

Turkeys get moved from the truck and right into the arms of people at the River Fund. Photo by Anthony Medina

Despite the seemingly never-ending fight to combat poverty and the added challenges brought on by the pandemic and migrant crisis, River Fund Founder Swami shared some parting words on how kindness goes a long way for people in need.

“I think it’s like now we’re in a world of hate, cruelty and violence. You know, it’s got to turn or we’re gonna sabotage ourselves and we do ourselves in, so I’m gonna lean on kindness.” Swami said.

Regardless of what the social political and economic climate may be especially in recent years, Swami assured he won’t turn away any kid in need of a pair of shoes.

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