PITTSFIELD -- Ellie was unsure her family would have Thanksgiving dinner, until she turned to the "Thanksgiving Angels.


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On Monday, the collaboration of local faith-based groups provided the Pittsfield woman with a frozen turkey, a bag of potatoes, stuffing mix, pie and other fixings to prepare for six people on Thursday.

"This is wonderful -- it's a blessing," said Ellie, who didn't give her last name.

The city resident was among more than 1,000 grateful people who filed through the South Congregational Church, home base for "Thanksgiving Angels," to receive their cook-at-home meal. Dozens of volunteers spent more than five hours handing out the holiday groceries donated for free or purchased at cost with the $14,000 raised for the massive food drive.

Michele Dinsmore and her 8-year-old son, Sebastian, doled out hundreds of pumpkin, apple and other pies, the majority baked by members of Pittsfield's First Congregational Church. Dinsmore felt compelled to give back to her community.

"I remember a couple of years as kids, we had Thanksgiving baskets," she said. "Last year we almost had one as my husband was laid off, but we're better off this year." The church member noted her husband has since found employment.

The "Thanksgiving Angels" program debuted in 2012 by distributing frozen turkeys and food for all the fixings to more than 800 families in Pittsfield, according to program organizers.

Hundreds of people file into the South Congregational Church for the second ’Thanksgiving Angel’ food donation program organized by several
Hundreds of people file into the South Congregational Church for the second 'Thanksgiving Angel' food donation program organized by several Pittsfield churches. (Stephanie Zollshan / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
They anticipated a bigger need for 2013, based on recent activity at various Pittsfield food pantries.

A month ago, organizers began seeking donations of food and money for the Thanksgiving meals. Each participating church and organization was assigned a food item to collect, while funds raised paid for the turkeys, along with milk, butter and eggs. Donations were double this year's goal of $ 7,000, up from the $ 5,000 spent in 2012.

In late October, the charity hosted a week-long registration for the program, open primarily to those who frequent the food pantries at the participating churches and other organizations.

Aside from South Congregational, other churches involved in "Thanksgiving Angels" are First United Methodist, First Congregational, First Baptist, St. Stephen's, St. Joseph's, St. Mark's, Sacred Heart and St. George Greek Orthodox, as well as Soldier On, The Christian Center and the Salvation Army on West Street.

The faith-based organizations -- nearly all with their own food pantries -- initially pooled their resources last Thanksgiving to avoid duplication of effort.

"This is much better than people going from church to church; it makes sure there's enough for everybody," said Arlene Burke, a long-time volunteer at the Christian center.

The program was further streamlined this year by designating a single location for the program registration and food distribution handled by an unexpected number of volunteers, estimated at 50-60 people.

"Everybody came out of the woodwork to help, including students from St. Joe's here to bag the food items," said Mary Wheat, coordinator of the twice-weekly food pantry at South Congregational Church.

Wheat was referring to members of the "St. Joe's Ambassadors," a group of students at St. Joseph Central High School dedicated to volunteerism throughout the city. Sophomore Chloe Boehn was amazed by Monday's turnout.

"I never realized this many people needed help," she said. "I'm glad they could get some food."

To reach Dick Lindsay,
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233