Above, Cynthia Areu inspects a bag of
Above, Cynthia Areu inspects a bag of (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
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PITTSFIELD -- Just after noontime on Monday, when the doors to the Thanksgiving meal food pantry had opened, the line of people stretched the perimeter of the church hall in the South Congregational, United Church of Christ, in Pittsfield, and out the door.

The need was evident and the resources plentiful: The hall also was filled with rows of tables piled high with food for Thanksgiving feasts.

Volunteers stood behind each table, as people in line moved from station to station, filling the cardboard boxes in their hands with traditional holiday staples like stuffing mix, canned vegetables, loaves of bread, and of course, turkeys.

"It's just so beautiful to be here," said Heather Burke, a Pittsfield resident who volunteered to help give out the food on Monday. "I'm so happy to be with these people today, it's a special day."

At the Thanksgiving food pantry, which ran until 5:30 p.m., about 800 Pittsfield families stocked up on free food and ingredients for their holiday meals. Volunteers from numerous organizations help ed, doing everything from greeting people as they entered to distributing the 700 available turkeys and hundreds of pounds of other foodstuffs.

Stephanie Filiault distributes turkeys at South Congregational, United Church of Christ on Monday.
Stephanie Filiault distributes turkeys at South Congregational, United Church of Christ on Monday. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

A massive undertaking or ganized by The Christian Center in Pittsfield, Monday's pantry pooled the resources of the other city food pantries, churches and community organizations for the first time.

The event has been something of a labor of love for its organizer, Cyndi Hand, a staff member at The Christian Center. Hand said that in past years each individual pantry in the city would sponsor its own Thanksgiving giveaway, which led to some major problems. People would visit each site once, winding up with more than their fair share, while others would go home empty-handed.

Hand said it was a level of disorganization that could be solved by consolidating each giveaway into one.

"Thanksgiving was never my favorite holiday, but it feels really special to be here today," Hand said. "I'm touched by all the community support."

Mary Wheat, coordinator of the South Congregational's food pantry, said the event brought out the best of Pittsfield.

"The spirit of all the people of Pittsfield coming together for this cause makes you proud to live here," Wheat said.

It's that kind of support that Emily Klein credited with making her Thanksgiving possible.

"It just wouldn't be Thanksgiving without all of this," Klein said as she pointed to the rows of food in front of her. "I have a family of three and my grandmother who I'm also getting food for today. I'm just so happy this is all happening."

Tasha Gradey, who stood in line ahead of Klein, echoed those thoughts as she added a can of gravy to her box of goods.

"I feel so blessed to be here," Klein said. "There are people in other places who don't have food and they might not even have electricity right now, so I'm just so blessed to have all of this food to bring my family."

For Quentin Chin, the interim pastor of the Pittsfield First Baptist Church, the event offers an unsettling reminder of socioeconomic inequality in the city.

"This is a mixed blessing in that you have this great pantry with all of this food, but then you realize the sad part -- there is so much poverty and need here," Chin said. 

While the event reminded its volunteers and organizers of the stark economic reality, for Joel Huntington, the pastor of South Congregational, the outpouring of support for the pantry showed an affirmation of the power of faith.

"The hands of Christ are clearly visible here," Hunt ington said. "We have a real food crisis here, but you see the good faith in people's faces, the desire to help."

The need to give back was the uniting thread that tied all of the event's volunteers together.

Stephanie Filiault had turkey duty all day, serving as one of the turkey distribution coordinators. Filiault said the turkeys were donated to the pantry by area grocery stores, local food banks and churches.

Monday marked the first time Taconic High School senior Christopher Grant ever volunteered at a food pantry.

"It's a great feeling to be here," Grant said. "Everybody should do this."

For Burke, who no longer works due to health problems and who benefited from the pantry herself, the event ties back to the spirit of the holiday itself.

"I'm so happy to be here," Burke said. "I'm happy because this is what Thanksgiving is about."