Thanksgiving is a time for reflecting on gratitude. But for Marty Rogers, a dad and Bronx native, focusing on gratitude served as a call to action of sorts. As a life-long resident of the Bronx, Marty feels a deep connection to his community. He sees his neighbors, both strangers and friends, as family – and on Thanksgiving, no family member is turned away.
In 1977, Marty and several of his friends from church floated the idea of serving Thanksgiving dinner to residents of the church’s senior center. 44 years ago, a crew of volunteers came together to turn the idea into a reality. Ever since, Marty has continued the tradition – at first, Marty and his fellow volunteers served their free Thanksgiving dinner to seniors in the community. They eventually expanded their efforts, extending the offer to those experiencing homelessness.
“They come in the door, they get welcomed, they get a name tag,” Marty told TODAY. “And I get to play maitre d’. ‘How’s the food?’ ‘Is everything OK with you guys?’ And at the end, they come around with seconds of pies. I love to see people (say) ‘I can’t eat no more.'”
Marty’s two kids, Joe and Maria, grew up participating in their dad’s beloved tradition. Even as young children, the eager volunteers helped out in any way they could. They saw the value in building a better community, and felt the joy of watching people leave happier than they walked in. Even as adults, both Joe and Maria look forward to Thanksgiving with their dad, and roughly 250 of their extended family members.
Around his community, Marty goes by many names. Some refer to him as “Mayor Marty” or “Saint Marty,” both titles he’s more than earned. The 44-year-long Thanksgiving tradition is just one of Marty’s many projects, each one improving the lives of those around him. And by showing his kids how good it feels to give back, he’s passed those same values on to them.
“I would describe my father as someone who truly embodies the spirit of giving, in every aspect,” Maria said, “and just knows the importance of community, of treating people with dignity and respect.”