For many, the thought of Thanksgiving conjures up Rockwellian images of happy families, gathered together around a dining table overflowing with all the fixings for a hot, hearty meal.
But for those facing food insecurity, a Thanksgiving feast may feel like an impossible luxury, especially in a time of economic uncertainty and rising prices at the grocery store.
For the eleventh year in a row, the Thanksgiving Angels are banding together to bring Thanksgiving meals to every Berkshire family that needs on — a mission that’s more important now than ever before.
“This is a very particular year, meeting a particular problem,” said Reverend Mike Denton, pastor of South Congregational Church on South St. in Pittsfield. “Helping create normality in such abnormal times is important and helpful, and makes our whole community better together.”
Tough times and turkey troubles
This year is an especially challenging one for the Thanksgiving Angels, a network of 22 nonprofits that band together to provide holiday meals for thousands of Berkshire County families each year.
With inflation still leaving its mark on the weekly grocery bill, many people have found themselves struggling to fill their table, even if their income hasn’t changed since last year.
“We’re having more people in need this year,” said Mary Wheat, who oversees the South Community Food Pantry at South Congregational year-round, as well as coordinating the Angels’ efforts each Thanksgiving.
According to an analysis by the hunger awareness group Project Bread of data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau, 18.3% of Massachusetts households were experiencing food insecurity as of August 2022 — the highest percentage since rates peaked at 19.6% in May of 2020.
Last year, the Angels distributed meals to roughly 1,600 families; in 2022, organizers expect that number to reach 2,000 families, or about 7,000 individuals.
To compound the issue, both for families and for the Angels, an outbreak of highly contagious avian flu earlier this year cut into the number of both fresh and frozen turkeys that will be available for Thanksgiving. That decreased supply leads to increased costs. Wheat noted that wholesale turkey prices have doubled since 2020. This year, the group will spend over $70,000 on birds alone.
Fortunately, the Angels don’t work alone.
Berkshire Money Management sets $25,000 match challenge
Berkshire Money Management is again lending its support to the event: the company has pledged to match every donation up to $25,000, effectively doubling every contribution.
“We at Berkshire Money Management support many causes throughout the year, but as a volunteer at the South Congregational Food Pantry, this event is special to me because I have seen first-hand how much the holiday meal made possible by the Thanksgiving Angels and their supporters means to our neighbors in need,” said Stacey Carver, co-founder of Berkshire Money Management. “I have had the opportunity to get to know many who benefit from the program and hear how much joy it brings during my weekly home deliveries.
“This year, with the dramatic rise in food prices, there is even more need. We hope BMM’s $25,000 match challenge will encourage our friends and fellow business owners to join us in supporting the Thanksgiving Angels in feeding our community,” she said.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which delivered 40,000 pounds of food to the South Community Food Pantry in June, will return on November 4 with another truckload of fixings and sides to fill out each meal.
This is on top of the 300 or so volunteers who show up to pack, distribute and deliver the meals each year.
Still, ensuring this year’s event is a success will need even more support from the community. “Every bit helps,” Wheat said.
How to donate
Donations are easy to make through the Food Pantry’s website, at southcommunityfoodpantry.org/donate, or by mail or in person at the Food Pantry during regular hours.
Money raised will go towards purchasing turkeys as well as a full complement of sides — everything a family will need to assemble an entire Thanksgiving meal. “Some people don’t realize it comes with everything,” Wheat said. “It’s not just the turkey.”
Families can sign up to receive a meal online, as well as by phone or in person at designated sites and times (see sidebar). Each family will then receive a designated pick-up time to receive their meal, or set up a delivery if they’re unable to transport the food on their own.
‘That gift of connectedness’
Wheat noted that many people who could use the Angels’ help aren’t comfortable asking. “A lot of people aren’t applying, because they think other people need it more,” she said.
Willingness to aid friends and neighbors in difficult times is one of the Berkshire community’s most outstanding features, though, and Denton encourages people to remember that accepting support when it’s needed is just part of living in a collaborative society. “In the same way that you’ve helped other people in the past, this time, people can help you,” he said. “Let them help. It’s okay.”
Despite the challenging circumstances, Wheat is optimistic the county will come through to keep the Thanksgiving Angels flying. “It’s what makes Pittsfield so good,” she explained. “Coming together and helping one another.”
This is Denton’s first year witnessing the Thanksgiving Angels in action, and he’s been struck by the amount of support the program receives. “I’m really impressed by the generosity of this community overall, both the generosity of time as well as generosity of money,” he said. “There’s ways in which this community recognizes that it’s in this together, that not every place recognizes. That’s something to celebrate. And so giving to the Thanksgiving Angels is not just a way to help folks out, but it’s a way to celebrate that gift of connectedness.”
For more information about the Thanksgiving Angels, including how to donate, how to volunteer and how to apply for a meal, visit southcommunityfoodpantry.org/thanksgiving-angels.