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Hurricane Maria evacuees among those receiving free turkeys in Syracuse

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, center, with Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon, left, and State Sen. Rachel May, right.

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul joined local elected officials at the Spanish Action League in Syracuse Tuesday to give away 200 turkeys to needy families for Thanksgiving. Some of those families settled in Onondaga County after being displaced by Hurricane Maria, when it hit Puerto Rico in 2017. 

The Spanish Action League, or La Liga, is a comprehensive service agency with programs in housing, health, jobs and language for anyone who speaks Spanish. Elisa Morales, the executive director, said they weren’t prepared for the influx of thousands of Puerto Ricans that came into the Syracuse area after Hurricane Maria hit.

“I was working 100 hour weeks," Morales said. "Our entire staff, we were just working to the bone. We could barely keep up with the demand that came in through the door that didn’t speak any English at all. And they came during months that were very cold.”

Morales estimates about a quarter of those waiting in line for turkeys on Tuesday, were hurricane evacuees.

"Our doors were open to everybody," Morales said. "I’m just so thrilled and grateful. I’m filled with gratitude because we were able to help people who would not be able to afford those turkeys for themselves for an actual Thanksgiving dinner. That turkey is something that helps them so much. A little turkey, a little rice and beans if you don’t have mashed potatoes, is a good mix.”

Lt. Gov. Hochul and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have been touring the state giving away Thanksgiving turkeys. Hochul said it’s a reminder of how strong the need is.

“They’re here living in the community and they’re not as familiar with what we do," Hochul said. "They’re learning and getting a lot of support. It’s just a reminder of how grateful we should all feel to live here and many of us, not having to stand in lines to wait for our turkeys.”

The Spanish Action League reached out to community partners on Monday to identify families in need. Within 24 hours, all the turkeys were claimed and volunteers had to hand out $20 gift cards to Price Chopper for those who didn’t get one.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.