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10th annual Thanksgiving Angels giveaway supplies Berkshire families with holiday meals

People swarm around cars in a drive-through in a church parking lot with bags of food.
Josh Landes
/
WAMC
The scene at the Thanksgiving Angels giveaway at the South Congregational Church in Pittsfield, Massachusetts on the morning of November 22nd, 2021.

Hundreds of volunteers are working today to supply around 1,600 families with Thanksgiving dinners from a church in downtown Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

A line of cars stretches around the block outside South Congregational Church on South Street as masked volunteers dart in and out of the tall white building to fill folding tables with bags of food. From the back of a parked box truck, frozen turkeys are sorted into large bins by size.

“Well, we're trying to get ready for the turkey handout for the Thanksgiving Angels," Mary Wheat told WAMC. "And it's a community group- And the community is here, working together to help everybody so everybody can have a Thanksgiving dinner.”

Mary Wheat stands by the food giveaway tables in a magenta fleece.
Josh Landes
/
WAMC
Mary Wheat.

Wheat runs South Congregation’s food pantry and oversees the operation. Now in its 10th year, the Thanksgiving Angels event brings together community groups from around the area into one united effort.

“There’s 21 groups this year, and everybody's participating," said Wheat. "And they're doing a great, great job. And we've had a lot of volunteers come in groups, and they've all done a fantastic job. And they’re- We're hoping to get everything ready. Did you see the truck? The turkeys are off the truck. We got 1,600 turkeys for 1,600 families.”

Two young volunteers stand by bins of frozen turkeys.
Josh Landes
/
WAMC
Volunteers distribute turkeys.

The drive-through format began last year due to the pandemic. Families sign up in October and get a pick-up time at the church on the big day, which stretches from the morning into the afternoon.

“There's more demand, especially for delivering," explained Wheat. "We deliver- Well, our pantry delivers a lot. So we have those people, the people that get deliveries, and then we get others that can't get out. Most of the deliveries are people who cannot drive here. They either walk or have no transportation to carry.”

Families can expect stalks of Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, apples, carrots and more in the bags assembled and distributed by volunteers.

“We have cranberry, we have cranberry sauce," said Mary Rentz. "Each organization that's part of this collects things and brings them here to the church, and then we have people who are putting things in boxes by size of family for several weeks.”

Rentz helps to coordinate the volunteer effort.

“We’ve got an alphabetical list for everybody who comes, and tell them where they can go," she told WAMC. "So we have over 350 volunteers.”

A room filled with bags of food and volunteers.
Josh Landes
/
WAMC
Volunteers assemble bags of food inside South Congregational Church.

On the other side of the tables, Hank Hunter is one of the first people in line to pick up food.

“I have a Harley right now," he said. "I don't race anymore but I grew up racing motorcycles. I started when I was 6 years old, hill climbing motorcycles, and raced pro and amateur. And I still have my hill climbers, but I just don't, can't ride anymore because my body don't bounce like it did, you know?”

Raised in the Greenfield area, Hunter explored the hills of Western Massachusetts on a motorcycle before he went pro and toured the country on the racing circuit.

“Through the years, racing, I mean, I've had some bad crashes. I've broken bones, and being the age I am now it's just like, hindsight- Just like, your body feels at all," he laughed. " Just kind of crazy, you know?”

Hunter isn’t kidding about the bad crashes.

HUNTER: I think the worst one I ever did was in Greenfield, before we made the landing bigger. I went over top of the hill, and I flew over the whole landing and hit the trees on the other side in the air. Hit my shoulder against a tree and the bike slammed me harder and separated my shoulder from my collarbone. [laughs] Yeah, it was pretty wild.

WAMC: So when you're in this situation, and you're like, oh, something bad is about to happen, what goes through your mind when you're on the bike?

HUNTER: It's like, oh, shit, to tell you the truth. I mean, that's what you think- Oh God, here it goes. I mean, I've had different crashes. Caroga Lake, New York, I was riding, I was hill climbing a Harley that a shop had built. And I went to go over the jump, and the the bike was so low that it just like stopped me dead, and I did like a complete wheel stand, and I'm standing in front of the motorcycle looking at it. I landed on my feet, and I [was] just like, wow, did that really just happen? It was crazy.

For Thanksgiving, Hunter is celebrating with his in-laws and has 14 mouths to feed.

“Especially with the stuff that's going on with COVID and stuff like that, and right now, with the prices of food, it's just ridiculous," he told WAMC. "So, you know, you can't really afford to – when you live on a budget – you can't really afford to buy a lot of stuff.”

He’s been coming to the Thanksgiving Angels giveaway since it started.

“I'm a disabled vet. I get a little pension from the [United States Department of Veterans Affairs] and I get Social Security, so.”

Chatting with volunteers and fellow food recipients alike, the sense of community is palpable to Hunter.

“The people here at South [Congregation] Church are really, really nice, you know?" he told WAMC. "I found that they'll even deliver stuff to people that need it.”

As the giveaway neared its 9 a.m. start, the queue of cars around the church grew longer and longer.

“Last time they were in Park Square," said Mary Wheat. "So I think they got smarter this year and they did it this way. But we're going to start early.”

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