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A day of giving and thanks in Harlem

11/30/2011, 5:37 p.m.

When Luis Ortega lost his job last month, he knew that times would be lean around the holidays. Thanks to one local restaurant, feeding his family was one less worry this Thanksgiving. On Monday, Nov. 21, Luis and hundreds of other residents of East Harlem lined up outside Ricardo Steakhouse, where over 600 turkeys were given away.

Owner Eddie Mateus opened Ricardo Steakhouse six years ago and the Harlem community has embraced it ever since. Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez is a frequent guest, and came out to support his constituents. Harlem's own superstar, rapper Jim Jones, made a special guest appearance to pass out turkeys at one of his favorite restaurants as well. The "Ballin" entertainer rocked out with his fellow Harlemites while a live DJ played music during the event.

Ricardo Steakhouse has long been called the "Oasis of Harlem" by its patrons. On Monday, Ricardo's team was able to give nourishment to some of its less fortunate neighbors. Partnering with numerous churches, community board members and a couple of celebrity guest appearances, they were able to give a turkey to each and every person who showed up. On the day of the 3 p.m.-scheduled turkey drive, an eager crowd began to form (some with folding chairs) as early as 10 a.m.!

Ricardo's Turkey Drive brought together people of all walks of the city-politicians, media, celebrities and residents-to participate in a day of giving. It was an event that the community of East Harlem desperately needed and an example that anyone could follow.

Although they exceeded their goal of giving a turkey to all the people who showed up for the turkey drive, they are far from solving all the problems of East Harlem. What Ricardo's family would really like to accomplish is motivating other businesses, organizations, and people to give back to the community and support its citizens. Harlem is home to millionaires and stars, but is still ranked as one of the lowest income neighborhoods in the country. There are penthouses next to the projects. Corporate professionals take the train with welfare recipients. Ricardo's turkey drive was an enormous success and a momentous step toward strengthening the community. Still, it was just one step. Let us all work together to bridge the gap between the haves and have-nots. Please join in next time as they pursue our goal of uplifting the dynamic and flourishing place that people call home: Harlem.