Refugees Learn About American’s Thanksgiving Traditions

By Lilla Ross

Refugees from Asia, Africa and the Middle East will further their educations in American culture with a Thanksgiving meal prepared by Chef Robert Tulko.

thanksgiving-american-tradition-catholicAbout 180 people who have arrived in Jacksonville the last year will begin arriving at 10 a.m. as guests for a lunch at noon on Saturday, Nov. 19, at Holy Family Catholic Church, 9800 Baymeadows Road in Jacksonville.

They are from Burma, Somalia Ethiopia, Eritrea, Central African Republic, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Cuba, said Pat Nelms, who works in the refugee resettlement program of Catholic Charities.

The event is a collaboration of Catholic Charities and Holy Family, which has a Cooking Ministry and assists refugees being resettled.

Student volunteers from Bishop John J. Snyder High School will decorate the tables and assist with serving the meal.

Chef Tulko started the Cooking Ministry at Holy Family as a way to share his culinary skills. He is the former corporate chef for Winn-Dixie Supermarkets and featured on WTLV-TV’s “Good Morning Jacksonville.”

The Cooking Ministry provides food services for parish events and ministries, including Thanksgiving dinner for people without families and the homebound. Volunteers in the program receive a free cooking lesson once a month from Chef Tulko.

“When we heard from the refugee ministry that they wanted to do a Thanksgiving dinner for the refugees, we said we’d be glad to do it.

“These are people of different nationalities and we want to expose them to this tradition. So it will be a very traditional meal with turkey and dressing and everything,” Chef Tulko said. “But I’m going to include spices they will recognize in some of the dishes.”

The event will include entertainment and the refugees will be encouraged to wear their traditional dress and share their own music, Nelms said.

Nelms also runs the refugee ministry at the parish and said Holy Family is very supportive of the new arrivals, often meeting them at the airport.

Catholic Charities helps the refugees get settled in Jacksonville, providing them with a furnished apartment stocked with ethnic foods to help them feel at home, Nelms said.

The families are given access to health care that includes vaccinations and physicals for children enrolling in day care or school. They are taught how to shop in American stores and use the bus system. They are tested for their proficiency in English and enrolled in classes and then helped with finding a job.

“For the first 90 days we really support them with all their basic needs,” she said.