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Volunteers And Donations Abound For Thanksgiving In Berkshires

This is a picture of Norman Rockwell's painting "Freedom From Want"
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Norman Rockwell's "Freedom From Want"

While most Americans will be spending Thursday at the dinner table explaining what they are thankful for, countless others will surely be thanked for what they are doing for others. But there are a number of people in our region working to provide a holiday meal for the less fortunate.The sound of dishes being washed is the kitchen version of the calm before the storm. At The Christian Center in Pittsfield the storm is defined as 100 people piling in for a Thanksgiving meal Thursday. The nonprofit’s been around since 1892 and has been hosting the holiday meal for several years, but for one reason or another donations were slow to come this year.

“We were pretty low on turkey supplies,” Executive Director Ellen Merritt said. “A few came in here and there. A few of our regulars had called to see what we needed, but we did not have what we needed for Thanksgiving.”

Merritt and others at the center started further outreach and news of the shortage was picked up by The Berkshire Eagle.

“Like the biggest wave you ever rode,” she said. “The unbelievable outpouring of support for the people of The Christian Center, the west side and all over the city. Apparently I was underestimating the community in terms of how ready, willing and able people are to give when they know what you need.”

In a matter of 48 hours Merritt says food items, money and turkeys were stacking up.

“At this point we have to say ‘Wow, we can’t even fit one more turkey in our freezer,’” Merritt said. “So I’m hoping that everybody in Pittsfield by now has a turkey and if not, come to The Christian Center we will help you out.”

The Christian Center took 40 turkeys to South Congregational Church in Pittsfield on Monday where 15 other area organizations got together to serve 1,400 families. On Thursday, 20 drivers will leave the Center around 10:30 and deliver meals to more than 300 people. They will be back by noon in time to serve a meal at the Robbins Avenue location.

“We’re peeling potatoes for 500 people,” kitchen manager Karen Ryan explained. “We’re peeling squash for 500 people. All the stuffing needs to be made. We are making homemade gravy.”

Ryan says all told about 100 people will volunteer from preparation to day-of service.

In Northern Berkshire County, Thanksgiving for Seniors has taken meals to the elderly for more than 30 years. This year the drivers will deliver about 200 meals, according to organizer Diane Bleau.

“They try to spend a little time with the senior in case you’re the only person they’re going to see that day,” Bleau said. “So it’s not just a meal, but a little friendship.”

Food preparation takes place Wednesday night at All Saints Episcopal Church in North Adams where Bleau says familiar faces abound.

“We’ve had volunteers come with their babies and those babies are now teenagers or young adults,” Bleau said. “The seniors who are still with us see these children growing up every year. It becomes a real family tradition.”

Meanwhile, roughly 260 people turned out for the Berkshire Food Project’s Thanksgiving meal Monday in North Adams, the most ever. But as Karen Ryan of the Christian Center explains, Thanksgiving is just one day out of the year. Turnout at the Center’s five weekly lunches has jumped from about 35 last year to 60.

“We’ve been really busy lately,” Ryan said. “We fill the house. People are sitting on the side. There’s nowhere to sit.”

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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