MANCHESTER — This past Saturday, a long line of people stretched from the New Horizons Soup Kitchen on Manchester Street, around to Pine Street and nearly to Merrimack Street — all waiting for the annual distribution of this year's Thanksgiving turkey and all the fixings.
"It was incredible," Mayor Ted Gatsas told more than 600 people Tuesday morning attending the 2013 New Horizons 20th annual Thanksgiving breakfast fundraiser at the Radisson in downtown Manchester. It was the longest line he had ever seen. Even though economic times are better in Manchester, he said, clearly there are still people in need.
The most staggering number, he said, is that in the city of Manchester there are 1,000 homeless children.
Charlie Sherman, executive director of New Horizons for New Hampshire Inc. and emcee of yesterday's fundraiser, said another 300 people again were expected to line up later in the morning at the soup kitchen for a second turkey distribution.
Those long lines may soon disappear — inside, anyway, as New Horizons plans to construct an indoor waiting area so people in need will no longer have to wait outside in inclement weather and bone-chilling temperatures to receive food.
"It is long overdue," he said.
The Singer family, he said, had kick-started the fundraiser with a $25,000 donation.
New Horizons, which opened 40 years ago, serves up to 300 meals each day and with winter settling in, both its men's shelter and Angie's Shelter for Women, with a total of 90 beds for the homeless, will be filled just as they were Monday night, Sherman said. It will be that way, he said, until winter's end.
While reports indicate the economy is improving and the unemployment rate down, Sherman said they are not seeing it at the shelters or the soup kitchen. The shelter continues to see record numbers of families and individuals looking for help, he said, and at the soup kitchen, there's been a 63 percent increase this year in the number of children's meals served.
More than 900 Manchester families and individuals look to the food pantry at New Horizons for groceries each month, he said.
When Shaw's and Stop & Shop closed their stores earlier this year, he said, that not only reduced the amount of food being given to the shelter, it also sent many of the 600 people who lost their jobs to New Horizons food pantry for groceries.
This year, New Horizons decided it was time to grow some of its own food and teach others how it's down. RIMOL Greenhouse Systems of Hooksett donated a 30-by-72-foot polycarbonate structure that was erected on a lot adjacent to the soup kitchen. The garden is being overseen by master gardener Emily Sandblade, and volunteers will be trained to work in the greenhouse. Sherman said within weeks, the first crop of spinach should be available from the only urban greenhouse located in a major city in the state.
While former Gov. John Lynch and current Gov. Maggie Hassan both spoke briefly and were warmly received, it was Rosetta T. Wylie who received a long, standing ovation.
"I'm a graduate of New Horizons and Angie's," Wylie began her speech. She came to Manchester in 2011, running for her life from an unhealthy relationship. She had no family here, no money, no food and no clothing. "I was really scared," she said.
Wylie met some people in one of the city's parks who told her about New Horizons and the wonderful things they did.
"So I followed right along behind them" to the shelter, she said.
The people at the shelter showed her nothing but love and kindness, she said.
Wylie was raised in Jacksonville, Fla., and is the mother of three daughters and grandmother of seven. She told her caseworker she had graduated from Everest University, receiving a diploma as a medical assistant. She stayed at Angie's Shelter for Women, getting the motivation she needed to obtain a certificate to be a medical assistant in the state.
Ultimately she found a job and was able to move out of the shelter and provide for herself. But she never forgot the help from New Horizons and how it gave her the confidence she needed to get back on her feet.
Once she was established, Wylie said she decided to give back and began volunteering at the shelter. New Horizons ended up hiring her and today she works at both shelters preparing meals.
She said without the generosity, help, love and kindness of the people attending the breakfast, New Horizons would not have been there to give her the help she needed to accomplish her goal.
"Thank you, thank you so very much," she told them.
Also speaking at the breakfast were Alex Walker of Catholic Medical Center, which operates a free health clinic for the homeless in the basement of the shelter, and Christine Grenier, president of New Horizons' board of directors.
Miss New Hampshire Samantha Russo sang "The Star-Spangled Banner," while entertainment was provided by blind and autistic 12--year-old singer and musician Christopher Duffley and his sister Grace.
During the breakfast, Sherman cajoled some of those in attendance to donate cash – more than $30,000 in all – to help fill the shelter's pantries, cover the cost of meals served and pay for hundreds of Christmas baskets delivered to Manchester families.
The mayor also got in on the act, getting people – including Govs. Hassan and Lynch – to pay $100 each for a six-pack of cookies, with the proceeds benefiting New Horizons.