PITTSFIELD — Thanksgiving dinner on Robbins Avenue was sort of a family affair Thursday.
It was a family of friends and neighbors leaning on each other and celebrating friendship.
About 100 people gathered at the Christian Center starting at about 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving to continue the preparations that had been started the day before. With the help of the kitchens at the Berkshire County Jail and House of Correction, they were able to cook and carve about 30 turkeys, along with enough sides to feed nearly 500 people.
According to longtime volunteer Bob Sinopoli, the annual Thanksgiving Day feast was established by the late Rev. Willard H. Durant in the 1980s.
Sinopoli said he volunteers every year because it's the only choice.
"What else can you do but to help others?" he said, noting that many of the folks who came for dinner, or ordered out, have no local family and face food insecurity.
"It's wonderful that we have so many people willing to help out like this," Sinopoli said.
The first goal was to fill all the orders for meal deliveries, which came to 415, and they all were out by noon.
When the last delivered meal went out, there was applause from the volunteers and those who already had started gathering for the holiday meal.
Volunteers then cleared and set the prep table for dinner, and soon all the tables were full of more than 80 celebrants who quickly began chatting with their neighbors as they waited for the Thanksgiving dinner.
Volunteers started carrying plated meals throughout the room, and soon they were munching on turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, rolls and veggies. And the banter never stopped, even when the pies started appearing.
Patrick Gable is president of the center's board of directors, and he was there helping to assemble the meals for delivery.
"We delivered the largest number of meals ever — 415," he said. "We even used up all our mashed potatoes — we had to make more. It was a big jump this year."
Ellen Merritt, executive director of the Christian Center, said everyone knows they are welcome to the Thanksgiving celebration.
"We have people who bring backgrounds from all over the world," she said, waving her arm toward the diverse crowd of partiers. "People feel welcome here and safe. That's what we do."
She noted that a variety of local restaurants and other businesses, along with a bunch of individual donors, provide the food for the event.
Before dinner was served, the crowd broke out in a song, "All Are Welcome." This is its final verse: "Built of tears and cries and laughter, / prayers of faith and songs of grace, / let this house proclaim from floor to rafter, / all are welcome, all are welcome, / all are welcome in this place."
Scott Stafford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-629-4517.