Week 25: The Alexis Diner’s Thanksgiving Charity Dinner for St. Peter’s Orphanage
Sometimes participating in a charity can be super simple – like enjoying a charity dinner… which is what my husband and I decided to do for Thanksgiving. For us, it was an easy choice. Thanksgiving is typically just the two of us. Our tradition is to take the train into NYC, look at the holiday window displays, do a little holiday shopping at Bryant Park’s Winter Village, then have Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant (Blue Fin on Times Square has been our go-to). It’s a really fun tradition – the city is full of lights, energy and happiness, bright decorations and holiday music. Everyone is friendly and you’re surrounded by the excitement of tourists.
This year, however, we decided to stay local and participate in our favorite Diner’s Thanksgiving feast – a charity dinner they’ve held the past 12 years to raise money for Saint Peter’s Orphanage in Denville, NJ. 100% of the proceeds of the day are donated to St. Peter’s.
Eating a delicious dinner did not seem like we were doing anything special for the charity, but we decided to do some research to learn about the organization and about foster care in general and then to keep it all in mind as we celebrated Thanksgiving.
St. Peter’s Orphanage is one of the last working orphanages in the US as they have been replaced, for the most part, by foster care placements. Nowadays orphanages are organized as group homes and they make great effort to provide a home-like environment for their children. St. Peter’s is an all-boys facility and residents are between the ages of 9 and 17. These are children with mild emotional, behavioral, social and/or learning problems, ADHD, substance abuse issues, and TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) from physical abuse by parents or caretakers. Many of the boys have had more than one failed adoption due to the adoptive parents’ inability to cope with emotional and behavioral issues. For these boys, St. Peter’s is their only safe haven.
At the moment there are over 400,000 children in combined foster care and orphanages in the United States. These are children who have been removed from their homes due to a wide range of issues such as physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect (food, clean living environment, medical, etc). In some cases parent(s) are incarcerated and there are no viable family members or friends to take care of the children. Sometimes these children have been abandoned. In rare cases both parents have died and there is no one else to raise the children. I was surprised to learn that 8 is the average age of a child in foster care in the US.
St. Peter’s provides specialized care such as intensive, on-site counseling. The children attend local public and private schools, receive tutoring and participate in sport activities. The facility also offers an Independent Living Program which houses up to four men who have graduated from the Residential Program. It’s a chance for these young men to get jobs and start living on their own while under the guidance of the program.
As my husband and I ate our special Thanksgiving meal, chatted with the families and couples at the other tables and also with the County Sheriff who was there to sponsor and spend time with all the charity dinner participants, we thought about the generosity of the owners and staff of the Alexis Diner, who give their time and all the proceeds to the orphanage each year. We also thought about the children in the foster care system and what Thanksgiving and the holidays may mean for them and their experience. As Christmas approaches the need for generosity and kindness for these children grows even greater, so how could we do more? We contacted the orphanage and was directed to their ongoing Amazon Wish List as a way to get the children some of their much-needed and wanted items to help make their holidays merry. And so we’re looking over the list and deciding what to purchase with the hope that in this very small way we are making a difference.
Thanksgiving is about gratefulness. I feel so blessed that our family is learning so much about these wonderful charities and have the opportunity to get involved, even in small ways. Happy Holidays!