HARLEM — Delores Carter is making a Thanksgiving meal big enough for at least 10 people, including one great grandchild.
Though money is tight for the retired health care worker as she waits for her disability benefits to begin, she will be able to have a feast, after all. She was one of 400 people in Harlem who received donations of a turkey, yams, rice, cranberry sauce and apples from the Catholic Charities Thanksgiving Food Distribution on Tuesday.
"You can't serve a big dinner without money," said Carter, 62.
"I am grateful. This helps tremendously," Carter said as she left the Joseph P. Kennedy Center in Harlem with a shopping cart full of food.
Archbishop Timothy Dolan, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, baseball legend Rusty Staub and Harlem Councilwoman Inez Dickens were handing out the items.
"This is what Thanksgiving is about," said Dolan, who talked about how his mother always left an "extra plate and empty chair" at their St. Louis home on the holiday, just in case someone who didn't have food showed up.
With the economic crisis, the need for emergency food has only gotten worse.
One in four children across the city is not getting enough to eat, and the city's 20 percent poverty rate is the highest it's been in a decade. Demand at the city's more than 1,100 food pantries has increased almost 28 percent since 2009, according to the New York City Coalition Against Hunger.
"I don't think it's hyperbole to say we have a crisis now when it comes to hunger," said Dolan, who called the task of helping the less fortunate a "sacred responsibility."
Dolan joked with those coming to get the food, many of whom were elderly or disabled. "I bet you make a mean pumpkin pie," he told one woman. He blessed some people and hugged many others.
Staub, whose charitable foundation has partnered with Catholic Charities and the D'Urso family of Key Foods Inc., said he's seen more and more people arriving at the Joseph P. Kennedy Center every year for more the past decade.
"It's getting tougher and tougher to raise the money and the lines are getting longer," Staub said. "I've never seen anything as tough as the last few years."
That's why Quinn said there needs to be a year-round focus on eliminating hunger, not just during the holiday season.
"We need to remember people are hungry every day," said Quinn.
"We can reduce and end hunger in New York City if we do what we are lead to do here today," she added.
Dickens said events such as this one help struggling families enjoy the holiday season. Dickens also gave away turkeys with U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel on Lenox Avenue later in the afternoon.
Angelica Marrero, 81, called the event "wonderful." She said her family of six requested that she cook up her special dishes for the holidays.
"The economy is so bad," she said while looking at her shopping cart full of food. "This is a blessing."