STAMFORD — Last year, members of Temple Sinai synagogue in Stamford held a Christmas Day lunch at the New Covenant Center on the city’s West Side on a rainy day amid a global pandemic.

They faced the same gloomy conditions for this year’s meal — and were again undeterred from serving the community.

At New Covenant’s soup kitchen-cafe at 174 Richmond Hill Ave. on the city’s west side, Temple Sinai volunteers prepared and provided about 80 takeout meals on Saturday — continuing the congregation’s Christmas Day tradition of helping out at New Covenant that started more than 30 years ago. Recipients said that they appreciated the generosity, which provided much-needed holiday cheer at the end of another grueling year.

“We’re glad to do this,” Temple Sinai member Marian Freed told The Stamford Advocate. “But it’s a shame that we have to do it in this format and that there are people who need it.”

As they did last year, recipients received their meals in plastic foam boxes handed out through a doorway on Richmond Hill Avenue, as social distancing regulations again ruled out traditional sit-down meals. The menu featured turkey, ham, sweet potatoes, stuffing, macaroni and cheese, green beans, rice, beans, gravy and cranberry sauce, as well as cookies, brownies and candy. The volunteers also handed out gift bags with hats, gloves, socks and scarves.

“I am very happy,” said Stamford resident Anibal Orellana after picking up a meal. “If we don’t eat, it’s bad.”

Freed said other recipients were equally grateful.

“People were walking up and taking their food and gift bags and saying, ‘Thank you so much, and God bless you. Now I can have a holiday with my family,’” she said.

New Covenant maintenance professional Brandon Johnson led the distribution of the meals and gift bags.

“I’ve been working here for four years now, so helping out the community is something that I’m proud of and that I love to do,” Johnson said.

As the scents of turkeys and sweet potatoes wafted through the room, New Covenant cook René Alexander oversaw the final stages of meal preparation in one of Connecticut’s largest soup kitchens. Operating under the umbrella of Catholic Charities of Fairfield County, New Covenant provides more than 600,000 meals annually through its soup kitchen-café and food pantry.

“The volunteers from Temple Sinai make a very big difference,” Alexander said. “They’re always here to lend a helping hand.”

All of the food was made by members of Temple Sinai, a progressive and Reform Jewish congregation based at 458 Lakeside Drive. In total, about 80 families contributed to the event.

In addition to Freed, her husband Bob Martino and fellow Temple Sinai congregants Stu Madison, Liz Rubin and married couple Michelle and Peter Ebstein also volunteered Saturday. All of them have also helped out at past Christmas lunches, and they are also year-round volunteers at New Covenant.

The volunteers credited fellow Temple Sinai congregant Sally Kelman, who founded the event. They said she did not attend this year as a social distancing precaution because she is in her late 80s.

“We want to be here,” Madison said. “We’re both providing meals to the community and providing a way for the regular staff to be able to take the day off.”

New Covenant also held a grab-and-go community lunch on Friday, serving about 100 guests. Members of Temple Beth El, a Conservative synagogue based at 350 Roxbury Road, sponsored and prepared those meals — as they have done for many years on Christmas Eve.

In addition to the meals Friday and Saturday, New Covenant held a food drive Friday at LaRocca’s Country Market, 105 Old Long Ridge Road — an event that benefited the New Covenant pantry. LaRocca’s staff pre-packed items. Customers then selected the bags they wanted to purchase and dropped off their donations at a table supervised by New Covenant volunteers. A number of LaRocca’s customers also made cash contributions.

Meal recipients on Saturday expressed hope for a brighter 2022. Orellana said he is currently homeless, but he said he was heartened to know he could seek assistance at New Covenant.

“There are good people here,” he said, with a smile wide enough to be seen under his mask. “God is beautiful.”

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