Friday November 23, 2012

Stuffed bellies and the tryptophan in the turkey quieted down about 70 chattering people at the Christian Center in Pittsfield on Thursday afternoon.

Little needed to be said, anyway -- everyone was clearly thankful for the hearty Thanksgiving feast they just gobbled up.

The holiday doesn't come easy for those that are without families or under the poverty line, unable to afford a succulent turkey and the requisite Thanksgiving side dishes.

That's where Berkshire organizations and volunteers stepped in to lend a holiday helping hand.

"We want to consider the whole Thanksgiving experience," said Ellen Merritt, the Christian Center's executive director. "It's important that people feel loved and not like it's just another free meal."

Samantha Mathis waited for her meal alongside her two playful children, 6-year-old Shayna Thomas and 4-year-old John Henry Thomas. They may be too young to understand their mother's past struggles -- abuse, homelessness, struggling to keep the small family afloat -- but Mathis said The Christian Center has always been there to provide what they need, be it clothes, toys or, in this case, a Thanksgiving meal.

"It's always a happy thing," Mathis said. "For me to cook a turkey, just for us three little people, and the kids don't eat a lot, it's a lot of stress. This way, I'm happy and free and not at home slaving."

Members of the Christian Center led the attendees in singing "I Will Always Give Thanks" and said two prayers before handing out the plates that included turkey, stuffing and fresh squash.

Behind the scenes, volunteer cooks darted around the Christian Center's kitchen, mashing, sautéing, garnishing and glazing the food that attendees waited for.

"It makes you feel good," said Richard Powers, the volunteer chef at center, but also a full-time chef at That's Amore Catering. "It's a good cause."

Mickey Soldato, co-owner of Zucchini's in Pittsfield, donated 500 pounds of the turkey served at The Christian Center.

At least 90 people were at The Guthrie Center in Great Barrington partaking in the free meals. Though the meals are all-inclusive to anyone that would like one, preferential treatment is given to low-income or struggling families.

The Guthrie Center saw people coming as far away as Longmeadow. Anaelisa Vanegas, a Lee resident, has been returning for four years because of the "sense of community" -- and the Guthrie Center's green beans.

"I dream of having them all year long," she said.

The Thanksgiving centerpieces, usually turkey or ham, are probably an off-putting sight for vegans. A vegan-friendly Thanksgiving pot luck, hosted by the Berkshire Vegan Network, was attended by about 100 vegans at the United Methodist Church of Lenox. It included squash, veggies and tempeh.

"Basically everything but the turkey," said Pittsfield vegan and dietitian Terry Carlo. "We ended up with a variety of everything."

To reach Adam Poulisse
(413) 496-6214,
or apoulisse@berkshireeagle.com.
On Twitter: @BE_Poulisse