PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Families having a tough time this year may look at the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday and wonder how they’re going to provide a regular meal for their family, let alone the traditional celebration feast.

They could be getting some help. Pittsfield’s Thanksgiving Angels — Community Day of Sharing program wants to give a Thanksgiving bounty to people who are in need and are just looking for a way to have a good holiday. For a hungry family forced to choose between providing food for their family and paying their utility bills, tough choices are made even tougher during the holidays.

“It’s the economic struggle of our time,” said Joel Huntington, pastor at the South Congregational Church. “Right now, with the spike in food prices, people losing unemployment benefits and the eviction moratorium coming to an end, this is one way we can try to meet a little bit of that need.”

Mary Wheat, who manages the Thanksgiving Angel program for the South Congregational Church and the church’s food pantry ministry, said it’s not uncommon for people to tell them they would be having peanut butter and jelly or hot dogs because they can’t afford a turkey dinner.

“There are a lot of stories like that,” she said. “So we’re happy to be able to give them the means to help them celebrate the holiday.”

2021 marks 10th year

For the 10th year in a row, more than 20 churches and community organizations in the Pittsfield area are making sure no family or individual has to miss out. They’re providing turkey, vegetables, stuffing, cheese, milk and cranberry sauce, as well as toilet paper and other basics to people a few days before Thanksgiving.

Everything will be distributed on Nov. 22 from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the South Congregational Church, 110 South Street in Pittsfield.

“We either deliver it to people or they can pick it up in their car, like a grab-and-go,” Wheat said. “Grab-and-go is the Monday before Thanksgiving, deliveries happen the weekend before.”

In the true spirit of Thanksgiving, the churches are working together to help as many people as possible. Each organization provides one food item for the Thanksgiving dinner table — {span}one will provide stuffing, another cranberry sauce{/span}, and so on. They’ll collect between 1,600 and 2,000 of their particular assigned item.

“We have a commercial kitchen in our social hall, and we’ll have maybe 1,000 turkeys at once, all frozen,” Huntington said. “It turns the kitchen into a freezer all by itself, so people are in there with hats and gloves, putting turkeys of all sizes onto the counters.

“I’ve never seen 1,000 turkeys in one place until this program, ‘’ he added with a laugh.

As each group delivers the items to the South Congregational social hall, volunteers will box up the food in the days leading to the event. The boxes will be distributed to people in their cars as they drive through the South Congregational Church parking lot.

“Mary Wheat is the one who figured out the logistics of making our parking lot work for the daylong event,” Huntington said.

The volunteers will put the boxes in the cars, and then the families can drive off with their Thanksgiving meal in the backseat. There will be a couple hundred volunteers all helping out that day, and the police will be on hand to see that traffic is flowing smoothly in and around the area.

The program has also worked out a delivery system the weekend before Thanksgiving, Nov. 20-21, as a way to get food to people who may not have cars or other means of transportation.

“A lot of people don’t have cars, so the different community agencies will be given a route and volunteers will be given three to five boxes,” Huntington said.

25k Match Challenge

This year, the Thanksgiving Angels also have a matching grant challenge. Allen Harris of Berkshire Money Management has stepped up with a $25,000 match challenge, which means for every dollar the Thanksgiving Angels raise, Harris’ match will double the impact, adding an additional $25,000 to the year’s program. A $25 donation becomes $50, and so on. The extra money is especially important as food prices have spiked this year.

“It usually costs around $30,000 to buy all the turkeys each year, but this year, due to availability issues, the prices could spike up to $50,000,” Huntington said.

Signup for the program starts the last two weeks in October, although the last day to call is the day before Thanksgiving.

“We like them to call earlier naturally, but we don’t turn anybody away. The object is to feed people that need it,” said Wheat.

How did the Thanksgiving Angels program start?

Huntington says that before the Thanksgiving Angels program started, all the area food pantries would do a Thanksgiving distribution and give out turkeys at other sites. But because there were some irregularities and supply issues, some people were left without anything for their Thanksgiving holiday.

“With there being such a great need, we decided to unite,” he said. “Last year, we gave out food to 1,400 different households. This year, we’re expecting 1,500.”

The more than 20 organizations include: Christian Center; Christian Assembly; Congregation Knesset Israel; First Baptist Church; First Church of Christ in Pittsfield; First United Methodist Church; Giving Garden of Pittsfield, Church of Christ; Sacred Heart Catholic Church; The Salvation Army; Sisters of St. Joseph; “Soldier On;” South Congregational Church; St. Charles Catholic Church; St. George Greek Orthodox Church; St. Joseph’s Catholic Church; St. Mark’s Catholic Church; St. Stephen’s Episcopal; Second Congregational Church, United Church of Christ; Temple Anshe Amunim; Zion Lutheran Church; and the Church of Latter-Day Saints.

“This is a really good thing for Pittsfield,” Wheat said. “It brings a lot of organizations together, and that’s good for everybody. It’s everybody working together — the organizations and all the volunteers — that really make this thing work. We’re able to feed 1,500 families because of them.”

Huntington agrees.

“The day is very energizing,” he said. “We have lots of great conversations with people, catching up on the news. It’s a real community event where we share our hospitality with one another, a community day of sharing. We like to make it as gracious and abundant as possible.

“You’re a child of God, and you deserve a nice holiday,” he added.

How can I donate?

To become a Thanksgiving “Angel Donor,” go to www.southchurchpittsfield.org/donate and select “Thanksgiving Angels.” You can also send your donation to Thanksgiving Angels, Community Day of Sharing, c/o South Congregational Church, 110 South Street, Pittsfield, MA 01201.

Contributing editor: Kelly L. Anderson