PITTSFIELD — Carl and Laurie Phillips have had a turbulent 12 months since last Thanksgiving.
“My husband became disabled, and we had our kids move back home,” Laurie said.
Unsure about having a holiday dinner, the Pittsfield couple hemmed and hawed Thursday, before deciding to sign up through their church for Monday’s grocery giveaway from the 10th Thanksgiving Angels program. The Phillipses were among the 1,500 Pittsfield-area households — about 5,000 to 6,000 men, women and children — who drove up to the rear of the South Congregational Church for the distribution of frozen, fresh and nonperishable food for a holiday meal.
Volunteers spent the weekend delivering boxes and bags of food to those who could not drive to Monday’s event.
Thanksgiving Angels is a charitable group made up of 21 churches, civic and social organizations in the Pittsfield area committed to making sure no family or individual misses out on a home-cooked Thanksgiving meal. The collaboration of faith-based groups provides turkey, vegetables, stuffing, cranberry sauce and home-baked goods.
Each organization provides one food item for the Thanksgiving dinner table, while money is raised toward buying the frozen turkeys, which are costing plenty more during the second year of the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite the rising cost and need, event coordinator Mary Wheat, who manages the South Congregational Church food pantry, said the public greatly supported this year’s event — the single largest one-day food giveaway in Berkshire County.
“Luckily, we had many donations from the community, and every one of them was important,” Wheat said. “The community came out, and went above and beyond.”
One local business stepped up big to partially offset the Thanksgiving Angels’ expenses.
Berkshire Money Management helped defray the price of the food by offering a $25,000 matching grant this fall, which the Thanksgiving Angels was able to match through a fundraising campaign.
CEO Allen Harris and his staff recognized the growing need to feed less-fortunate households, coupled with the high cost of turkeys.
“We knew we had to come in big — not just because the pandemic intensified the need, but because inflation has been punishing,” Harris told The Eagle in an email. “I was concerned that high food prices would make it harder to buy enough, and that higher costs of everything else might make donors too cash-strapped to give the same amount they did last year.”
Donations aside, people power also made Thanksgiving Angels a success, with about 350 volunteers helping to plan, pack food into boxes and bags and hand them to appreciative folks as they pulled up to the church to receive the groceries.
Kelly Dionisio, a maintenance worker at The Christian Center in Pittsfield, was outside, helping load vehicles.
“I’m a veteran of the Navy,” he said, “and if they need my help, I come.”
New to the Thanksgiving Angels this year is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Pittsfield.
“Our church wanted to get more involved with other churches and the community,” church member Christen Buyack said.
“I’m honestly amazed,” Buyack said of the effort. “Mary [Wheat] runs a tight ship.”