St. Matthew’s House needs your help to provide Thanksgiving for thousands

Lance Shearer

If you’ve cooked Thanksgiving Day dinner for 10 people, you know it’s a lot of work. Next Thursday, St. Matthew’s House will be cooking and serving Thanksgiving dinner for 10 – times 100. They will host over 1,000 hungry people at their East Naples and Immokalee locations, plus providing another turkey and all the trimmings for another 1,500 to go.

But they need your help. St. Matthew’s has the turkeys covered, with the help of numerous generous volunteers, but they need help with the “trimmings.” For over 21 years, dozens of families and individuals on Marco Island and Naples have “stepped up to the plate” and cooked containers of side dishes to accompany the traditional bird. Marco Realtor Bill Filbin has organized the effort, and he and his helpers have gotten it down to a system, to make it as easy as possible for people to help.

Bill Filbin, left, delivers dozens of trays of food to St. Matthew's House on a previous Thanksgiving Day. Marco Islanders have been providing side dishes to St. Matthew's House, serving literally thousands for Thanksgiving Day dinner, for over 20 years, Submitted photo

“We buy disposable aluminum pans at Costco – they call them steam table pans,” said Filbin. “People can pick up an empty pan, or as many as they can fill, at the Board of Realtors office. Then once they cook the side dishes, they bring them back to the office (off Bald Eagle Drive just north of City Hall) on Thursday morning, and we will deliver them to St. Matthew’s House.”

If you have your own disposable trays with covers, you can use those too, he said. Recommended dishes include mashed potatoes, stuffing, green bean casserole, baked yams, vegetables (corn is a favorite), and sweet potatoes, baked, mashed or candied.

Those are suggestions – any food you would eat for Thanksgiving is welcome. People also donate pies, dinner rolls, and cranberry sauce.

“I’m going to do a couple with pasta and sauce, plus some meatballs,” said Filbin. “I cook four to six myself every year. I don’t care if they go to Publix or Winn-Dixie and just scoop it in.” He did ask that people mark with magic marker on the top of the pan to indicate what is inside.

Filbin also asked that people do not bring trays with excess liquid sloshing around in them, as the trays will be stacked in the back of his personal SUV to deliver to the shelter. He recounted an experience years ago, when a dish swimming in hot water made a mess in the back of his car.

Steven Lamantia of Naples, helps fills shopping bags with sides during the annual Capital Wealth Advisors Turkey Drop on Monday, Nov. 12, 2018 at St. Matthew's House in Naples, Florida.

“Someone gave me corn in water, and it sloshed all over,” he said.

That was many years and several vehicles ago – this is the 21st year for the Thanksgiving side dish caravan heading from Marco to St. Matthew’s House, and the 21st year Filbin has headed up the effort. Over the years, the scope of the effort has grown along with the need.

“The first year, we did maybe 10 trays. Last year, it was over 70.”

Ideally, he said, the hot food will be delivered hot, but will get reheated at the St. Matthew’s House shelter.

“Most people cook it Thanksgiving morning,” he said. “It’s a great way to start the day and give thanks, helping others who are less fortunate.”

Rev. Vann Ellison, founder and CEO of St. Matthew’s House, said they count on the manna from Marco.

“They’ve been a real blessing over the years. Bill has brought us an amazing variety of side items.” The meals mean a great deal to those who receive them, he said.

“In the midst of loneliness, or at a difficult time, we find it’s very valuable to give people a holiday meal. Holiday meals celebrate the joy of renewal, and life together. They are one of the best ways to strengthen families, bring together families and generations.”

People will be feasting all day at St. Matthew’s House locations in Naples and Immokalee, and one St. Matthew’s board member suggested with a smile that “the most important thing is that Vann can eat for two – have Thanksgiving dinner here, then go to Immokalee and do it again.”

Volunteers move shopping bags filled with donated food in to a refrigerated trailer during the annual Capital Wealth Advisors Turkey Drop, Monday, Nov. 12, 2018 at St. Matthew's House in Naples, Florida.

“Luckily, they come in shifts,” said Ellison. After Thanksgiving, the shelter will be back to its regular, every-day schedule, serving from 500 to 1,000 a day. “In all we’ll serve a quarter of a million meals this year.”

Pick up empty pans at the Marco Island Area Association of Realtors at 140 Waterway Drive, or call the association at 394-5616 for hours and more information. You may drop off your completed dishes at MIAAOR between 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning for delivery to the shelter.

St. Matthew’s House, at 2001 Airport Road South, will be giving out holiday meals again just before Christmas, and their need for food to help feed the hungry and homeless continues year ’round. The 501(c)3 registered charity accepts cash and in-kind donations, and runs a thriving catering operation. To donate or learn more, call 239-774-0500, or go online to