PITTSFIELD >> A relatively overcast Thanksgiving holiday saw rays of figurative light emanating from the Robbins Avenue Christian Center, base of operations from which volunteers served up or sent out hundreds of meals to less fortunate people.
Such a surplus in food donations arrived at the center in the days leading up to the holiday, Executive Director Ellen Merritt decided mid-afternoon to try a new wrinkle: Feed the people at work as well.
It came to her while talking to a convenience store clerk, a single father of three.
"I was inspired," Merritt said. "He said he wasn't going to get to be with his family until later. I thanked him for working and then I thought, 'You know what, we should deliver meals around to people working today, too.' "
Brenda Durant, a volunteer delivering meals, also dished on the encounter.
"He wasn't going to be cooking for himself or his three children because of work," Durant said. "We brought four meals in and he broke into an ear-to-ear smile. The happiness was contagious."
Merritt added, "We sent a whole wave out to people at convenience stores and the police department. We said, 'We've got the food, let's feed as many people as possible.' "
The bulk of the day's work saw volunteers gather as early as 6 a.m. to begin assembling roughly 350 meals headed for elderly and shut-ins across the city and beyond, in Dalton, Lanesborough and Lenox.
Donors had given the center hundreds of turkeys, and volunteers spent Wednesday on such tasks as peeling 300 pounds of potatoes and preparing dozens of other food offerings.
A noon serving at the center saw more than 100 pour in and fill the place to capacity.
"At one point I looked around," said Patricia Masoero, center financial manager, "and saw everyone so busy, all the people so happy, and it took my breath away. This is a big day together for families, and everyone there is giving some of that up. It recharges your whole way of thinking about humanity."
Durant called the experience one of the "happiest days I've had in weeks."
"You start showing up at people's houses and you don't know how they're going to react," Durant said. "Turns out, they were legitimately surprised, happy, welcoming — it was one of those experiences where you feel like you're paying it forward."
Durant added, "You stop thinking about your own problems and challenges and learn to enjoy the simple pleasure of seeing somebody else smile. It was a beautiful experience."
Christian Center volunteers and volunteers from 15 other city churches, civic and social organizations collaborated earlier in the week on Monday to hand out Thanksgiving meals to families in need at South Congregational Church.
The program, called Thanksgiving Angels, over the course of the day doled out a total 1,500 frozen turkeys, tons of fresh onions, cabbage and squash, numerous boxes of stuffing mix, cases of canned cranberry sauce, green beans, and about 1,000 each of homemade pies and breads.
"One of the people I talked to [at the center] was an elderly man who was with his wife," Merritt said. "He said, 'This truly is a miracle. I don't know how you do it.' I was thinking it is, on so many levels. When you bring to the attention of the community what the needs are, people really respond. They sure did this Thanksgiving."