Thanksgiving Angels turn no one away as hundreds in need line up for a holiday meal

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PHOTOS | Thanksgiving Angels 2016

Hundreds of people braved snow, slush and fierce winds on Monday for an encounter with Thanksgiving Angels.

The angels, representing local churches, food pantries and other organizations, were stationed at South Congregational Church distributing all the fixings for a Thanksgiving meal.

"This is like a godsend that we have this," said Linda, a Pittsfield resident, as she waited in line behind the church. "It makes a world of difference between having Thanksgiving and not."

It was even colder last year, when she waited for about two hours, she said.

Linda said she makes many meals out of the food she receives - she even uses the turkey bones.

Dozens of volunteers filled bags and carts with just about everything required for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner - from turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce to milk, eggs, butter, pies and homemade breads, for those in need.

Recipients signed up with their names and the size of their families prior to the event. Volunteers gave them colored wristbands at the entrance to identify the size of their families - how much food they'd need - to the dozens of volunteers manning tables for each item. Sacred Heart parish alone committed to donating 800 cans of cranberry sauce, said volunteer Sister Kathryn Flanagan, a sister of St. Joseph who ministers at Sacred Heart.

"It's a tremendous example to Pittsfield," she said. "This is proof of the goodness that lies in so many people, both the receivers and the givers."

Volunteers from Reid Middle School had no class Monday due to the snow - an example of providence to Flanagan.

"I said, 'See how the Lord provides!' " she said.

The fast-moving line of people filled up again and again throughout the morning and early afternoon. But Stealfon Hooks, of Pittsfield, anticipated waiting. He had a cart with him to pick up food for himself and his fiancee for a dinner they wouldn't be able to have without assistance.

"I make just barely enough ... to make it through the month," said Hooks, a disabled Navy veteran who was shot in the leg while stationed in Iraq in 2003 and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The effort started when local churches, which were each running their own food pantries and giving out turkeys at Thanksgiving, decided to combine efforts and ensure that everyone got what they needed, said Mary Wheat, volunteer site manager for the South Congregational Church's food pantry.

"Mary [Wheat] is the heart and soul of this," said the Rev. Joel Huntington, pastor at South Congregational Church, who has lived in the Berkshires for 27 years.

Huntington said the event reminded him of the story of Jesus feeding 5,000 people with only a few loaves of bread and fish. From many donations, the same happens at the event, he said.

"The line between helper and helpee dissolves," Huntington said. "It gives me hope for our country ... that we can work together and make things happen."

Susan Coelho. of Pittsfield, brought her younger son, a senior at Taconic High School, to volunteer. Her older son, a college student in New York, previously volunteered.

"They hear about poverty, but they don't see it," she said. "It's important for them to know exactly what goes on in this city, and that somebody you know might be in need."

Justin Thompson, a senior at Taconic High School and a member of Boy Scout Troop 1, took a break for some "phenomenal" chili after spending much of the morning unloading the delivery truck of food.

"I'm staying til the end," he said. "It's a great atmosphere. I feel like I'm doing something great."

Reach staff writer Patricia LeBoeuf at 413-496-6247 or @BE_pleboeuf.


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