Some people might consider working all day on Thanksgiving and Christmas to be a sacrifice. But Lee Hunkins insists there’s no other way she’d rather spend the holidays.
“I love people,” she says. “When I’m here for the Holiday Meals, I’m focused on other people, I’m helping other people and making them feel good. Now people know me and expect to see me.”
Every year Goddard Riverside feeds more than 1,000 guests in our dining room at 593 Columbus Avenue. Hundreds of additional dinners are delivered to people whose mobility challenges prevent them from coming here. Volunteers begin arriving at 6 a.m. to carve 120 turkeys and chop onions and celery for nearly 300 quarts of stuffing.
Hunkins has been a Holiday Meals volunteer for eight or nine years. She started out working in the kitchen, which she enjoyed: “We really had camaraderie, working back there.” In recent years she has organized the deliveries, calling each recipient to let them know when their meal would be arriving. “A lot of people live alone. They don’t want to open the door, and I don’t blame them,” she explains.
Once she’s done with the phone calls, Hunkins sits at the entrance to the dining room, greeting guests and helping to organize the flow of people.
Hunkins grew up in a strong tradition of family holidays. “I had exceptionally wonderful childhood Thanksgivings and Christmases,” she recalls glowingly. “We loved fun and practical jokes. But after my parents passed I realized the holidays were sad occasions for me. I had to find something to do.”
A ball of energy at age 87, Hunkins has rarely lacked for things to do. Decades ago she got involved in community theater in Harlem, balancing her volunteer commitments with a full-time job at the Social Security Administration. She began writing plays. Then she thought she had a good idea for a TV movie, so she went to Barnes and Noble and bought a book about how to write for television. The resulting script won a prize from the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. “Hollow Image” aired on ABC in 1979 with a cast that included Morgan Freeman.
Hunkins has also written for the TV show “Reading Rainbow.” Several of her plays have been staged, many at New York’s American Community Theater.
Recently Hunkins became fascinated with DJ-ing. She began to study the art of playing and mixing music. She dreamed of doing a video with pop singer Bruno Mars. But she’s decided to downscale her DJ activities for now because they were taking away from her first love: writing.
“My bucket list is pretty short because I’ve pretty much done all the things I want to do,” she says brightly. Then she concedes she’d still like to win an Emmy Award (she’s been nominated twice).
No matter what else is on her busy agenda, Hunkins plans to be at the Holiday Meals as always this year.
“It gives me a good feeling,” she says. “A tired, wonderful feeling. It’s a lot of craziness, but it’s fun.”