PAWTUCKET — It will soon be a familiar and festive scene at the Jeanne Jugan Residence where the Little Sisters of the Poor care for the elderly. The aromas of the holiday will fill the beautifully decorated dining room as the traditional turkey is presented for carving. This year, the long-anticipated meal will not only be delicious and nutritious, but it will also represent the sincerest feelings of Thanksgiving as the Little Sisters, the dedicated staff and residents come to the table to thank God for the blessings and love of the community.
This Thanksgiving meal — and hundreds of others throughout the year — are all made possible through the generosity of the public which donates turkeys and the fixins to the Jeanne Jugan Residence in Pawtucket.
In the past, the annual Turkey Drop was a one-day event, but now the window for drop-offs allows people to come by at their convenience. These plentiful donations started arriving Nov. 13 and continued through Nov. 19 during this special event hosted by the Little Sisters of the Poor to help their mission to care for the elderly: A mission they live out lovingly with their committed staff in the spirit of humble service they have received from their foundress, Saint Jeanne Jugan.
“People just want to give from their hearts,” said Sister Mary Vincent, “the begging Little Sister,” who serves the Jeanne Jugan Community in collecting donations and gifts that assist the community all year long.
Just as St. Jeanne Jugan walked the roads of France witnessing everyday miracles, the collecting continues to be at the heart of the Little Sisters’ charism and mission today. It’s a living tradition that proves that miracles of Providence — or in this case Pawtucket — continue. The Sisters certainly witness these everyday miracles in the acts of kindness prompted by the Turkey Drop which benefits the 60 individuals living in skilled and assisted living as well as the 30 apartment residents.
As of Rhode Island Catholic’s visit to the home last week, 72 frozen turkeys had been dropped off in the building entryway. The two previous years each saw more than 200 birds bequeathed to the Little Sisters. And they couldn’t be more grateful for this generosity — and for the freezer space.
And the freezers will definitely be full, explained Lenita Letendre, the kitchen supervisor who started working at Jeanne Jugan when she was 15 years old.
“For starters, we cook four turkeys every week because we always have turkey as an alternative for our residents,” said Letendre, adding that these turkeys have also made for wonderful pies and soups. “Our residents love a nice turkey dinner. It’s one of their favorite meals: turkey and stuffing. It’s comfort food.”
Now in her 23rd year working at the residence, Letendre explained that it is an incredibly moving experience to be able to prepare these meals of comfort for the residents.
“It feels great to be able to do that for them. Especially during the holidays,” she said. “A lot of our residents, especially during Covid, didn’t go out for holidays and for many of them we are their family.”
“I don’t think you’ll see anybody going hungry around here,” said Sister Mary Vincent, smiling.
Sister Mary Vincent recalls a past year of the Turkey Drop, everyone perked up at the sound of roaring motorcycles rolling into the parking lot to unload 20-25 turkeys.
“It just takes on all kinds of life every year. The stories are the same, but a little different. And it’s just absolutely amazing to see the people show up. It’s beautiful.”
These helpers come from every walk of life: young and old, from faith-based groups and secular. Some do like to remain anonymous with their gifts of turkeys and monetary donations, but the incredible generosity of everyone is always met by the Sisters with their prayers and most sincere thanks.
“Those who share with the Little Sisters are part of our family,” said Sister Mary Vincent. “Jeanne Jugan saw everyone who shared in what she did as being part of our family. And we honestly pray for them every single day, asking God to bless them for their generosity and what they do, because that’s how important they are.”
Covid-19 put a damper on allowing the Sisters to personally thank each and every person who comes to the door. The Little Sisters and staff long for the future when they can once again embrace their generous neighbors, but the pandemic continues to halt those visits in an effort to keep the virus exposure low to protect the residents.
For more than a decade, countless local groups and individuals have made the Turkey Drop a success. Sister Mary Vincent explained that it is truly the gift that keeps on giving.
“It’s really coming from the bottom of my heart because we appreciate everything that everybody does. You keep our home going. And it’s always been that partnership. Saint Jeanne said, ‘you can’t do it alone’ — and we can’t either.”