Organizers meet increased need with annual Thanksgiving meals

  • Volunteers served Thanksgiving dinners for the fourth year at Stone Soup Cafe in Greenfield on Thursday. Staff photo/MARY BYRNE

  • Stone Soup Cafe had reservations for 400 meals on Thanksgiving day. Staff photo/MARY BYRNE

  • Stone Soup Cafe in Greenfield served to-go meals and also provided a meal delivery service on Thanksgiving. Staff photo/MARY BYRNE

  • Stone Soup Cafe in Greenfield served to-go meals and also provided a meal delivery service on Thanksgiving. Staff photo/MARY BYRNE

  • Stone Soup Cafe in Greenfield served to-go meals and also provided a meal delivery service on Thanksgiving. Staff photo/MARY BYRNE

  • Living Waters Assembly of God Church prepared Thanksgiving meals for pick-up Thursday afternoon. Barely halfway through the day, volunteers had handed out almost as many meals as they would have served at their annual sit-down meal. Staff photo/MARY BYRNE

  • Living Waters Assembly of God Church prepared Thanksgiving meals for pick-up Thursday afternoon. Staff photo/MARY BYRNE

  • Living Waters Assembly of God Church prepared Thanksgiving meals for pick-up Thursday afternoon. Staff photo/MARY BYRNE

Staff Writer
Published: 11/26/2020 5:46:44 PM

GREENFIELD — With COVID-19 preventing large, in-person gatherings, local organizations had to find alternative ways to get meals to the community members in need on Thanksgiving.

The lower level of All Souls Church, for example, wasn’t packed with guests, nor was a buffet line anywhere in sight.

Instead, a handful of volunteers — fewer this year than in previous years, and all of whom donned masks — stood in a production line at a long table, adding the next side helping to a to-go box that would become some Franklin County resident’s Thanksgiving meal.

But for all that was different about the scene at All Souls Church on Thursday afternoon, certain aspects of Thanksgiving Day at Stone Soup Cafe remained the same, according to Executive Director and Chef Kirsten Levitt. And she wasn’t just speaking to the food on the menu.

“Everybody’s working together and happy and getting it done,” she said, as volunteers on the production line danced to the tune of the music that filled the room. “For the most part, we’re still rocking and rolling like we always do. Our mission is to create a community space, and wherever it is, we’ll create it.”

Thursday was the cafe’s fourth year serving Thanksgiving dinner to the people of Franklin County, she said. Unlike the typical in-person meal that takes place every year, meals were reserved in advance and either picked up on the day of, or delivered by a volunteer.

“We typically do somewhere between 300 and 400 meals,” Levitt said.

The pay-what-you-can cafe on Main Street, however, had more reservations Thursday than it might typically see at an in-person Thanksgiving gathering, said volunteer coordinator Jansyn Thaw.

“This year, we’re doing almost 400 meals,” Thaw said. “We’re delivering to 80 different households, and we have 70 households coming here to pick up their food.”

Stone Soup Cafe had 15 volunteer drivers who delivered meals around the county.

“A lot of folks don’t have transportation, or they don’t live really close by,” she said. “It’s really important that people who are immunocompromised or are older, or have mobility issues, still can get food.”

In general, Thaw said the cafe has noticed a greater need this year.

“A lot of people have lost jobs and are really struggling,” she said. “There’s definitely been an uptick in how many people are requesting meals.”

And while organizing a COVID-19-safe way to get meals to the people in the county was no small feat, it was “really important” that Stone Soup Cafe find a way to do so, she said.

“When you’re dealing with food insecurity and hunger, you can’t stop — ever — finding a way,” Thaw said. “There’s nothing that can get in the way of that.”

On Thursday, anyone entering the food preparation or packing area was required to have their temperature taken; everyone wore masks and social distancing protocols were in place. People in line for pick-up wore masks and were advised to wait in line standing 6 feet apart.

“And we have outdoor roles for people not comfortable being indoors,” she added.

Levitt noted there were fewer volunteers able to participate this year, in an effort to limit the number of people in the building and to maximize social distancing.

“Typically, we have more people and less shifts. Now, we have more shifts and less people,” she said. “It is typically a big volunteer day. We had to turn people away, which was sad, because we love to be inclusive.”

Levitt said many of the volunteers are people who come back every year to help.

“I love working with these people,” she said.

On Davis Street, another group of volunteers worked to get meals out to community members.

“Normally, we serve here,” said Keila Santana, who coordinated the drive-thru meal at Living Water Assembly of God on Thursday. “We decorate. Everybody sits down and we serve them, and we pray. I always want people to feel like they’re going to a house, instead of just getting free food — the same feeling of when someone invites you to your house.”

From 1 to 4 p.m. on Thursday, Santana and her husband, Earl Cruz, with the help of a handful of volunteers, prepared and packaged meals to anyone who drove up to the church.

Barely halfway through the day, volunteers had handed out almost as many meals as they would have served at their annual sit-down Thanksgiving meal. Cruz and Santana said they had their biggest turnout last year, serving 150 meals.

Santana said she missed the atmosphere of the sit-down meal.

“But still, we’re here to get them the food, especially now, because a lot of people may be older and their families, who maybe normally get together to eat, now they can’t,” Santana said. “I’m happy that at least opens the door wider to people who maybe wouldn’t otherwise come to this.”

The food is partly the result of monetary donations toward the Thanksgiving meal, she said. Some of the turkeys were donated by family friends.

“I’m grateful, because this year is more expensive with the containers,” she noted.

Santana said she is grateful for the support of the community and her pastor, as it was important to her that she find a way to get meals to community members in need.

“I come from Puerto Rico, and island people, they like to feed you, no matter if you have eaten or not,” she said. “I guess I always like to know that someone is eating. I don’t want to think that any person is going to bed without at least something to eat.”

Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne


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