By Tammy Daniels
04:00AM / Tuesday, November 26, 2019
The project ran out of turkey in the first seating and had to rush out for turkey breasts.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — It might have been the need, it might have been the sense of community. It might even have been Monday's mild and sunny weather.
Whatever the impetus, the Berkshire Food Project's annual Thanksgiving dinner drew such a crowd on Monday afternoon that it ran out of turkeys. It took a quick trip to the market to get more gobblers in the oven for evening seating just hours away.
"This morning when I woke up I thought, Oh good, you know, it's gonna be nice out and people will come," laughed Executive Director Kim McMann. "I don't know that's what it was but it was like literally we unlocked the door and the line went from the serving table all the way through here and outside."
She estimated some 200 people turned out for dinner at 1 p.m., the second year the project has done two seatings for Thanksgiving. The evening seating was a bit quieter, but with still a slow and steady stream of people entering the parish hall at First Congregational Church for turkey, pie and all the fixings.
"So last year we did 365. I bet that's probably about what we're going to do this year because this is quiet," McMann said. She noted that the Veterans of Foreign Wars was having its Thanksgiving dinner on Monday night as well, so that might have drawn off some of the crowd.
But those who attended were thankful for the presence of the food project, which feeds more than a hundred people free lunch on weekdays. Everyone who left full or with dinner to go thanked McMann as they made their way out of the dining room. Thanks for the meal, thanks for being here, thanks because it was so good.
"This is very helpful because I'm retired and I can't cook a lot for myself," said a woman named Joyce, who was leaving with dinner for herself and two friends who couldn't make it. "In between my doctor's appointments, I come in and have lunch and it's very helpful. ... We couldn't live without this program. Especially when you are sick. I'm sick all the time."
Joyce said she liked it better than some other options for seniors because the meals are better.
"This is a great program for me and I can pick and choose what I want to eat because it's healthier here," she said. "They have great cooks and it's very pleasant. Yeah. Thank you very much."
McMann said the numbers have been rising for the regular meals over the past year, especially this summer. Where the project cooked for a hundred or so for lunch, it's now preparing for 150 to 175 at a seating.
"We don't know if we're getting better at telling people they're welcome to come or if more people need to come," she said. "October slowed down a little from that, we weren't that high over, but we've already surpassed the number of meals we served last year.
"And today's our biggest day, and then we still have all of December and we have a pretty big Christmas dinner."
McMann said board President James Mahon is projecting a 20 percent increase over last year.
It's hard to track who's taking advantage of the lunch, for some it's a chance for community and comfort and for others it might be the only hot meal they get a day. There's no questions to answer and no forms to fill out so it's difficult to determine need: all the project has is numbers served. There's some regulars and semi-regulars but McMann and the volunteers who sustain the effort feel they're seeing more new people getting in line.
"We are the first place people go a lot of the time when someone is in crisis. They'll come here for two or three weeks and eat lunch before they'll even think about asking [for other help]," she said. "So it's good that we don't ask questions but it makes it hard to get a gauge on what's going on."
The Food Project may be the way to alleviate food insecurity for people who are struggling along the economic edge because of circumstances they can't control. This week, at least, there are a few places for those in need to find some holiday cheer and good food.
The decision to do two seatings for Thanksgiving was made last year, McMann said, to give more people the opportunity to partake. The project has traditionally forgone its Monday before Thanksgiving lunch (it's also closed Thanksgiving and the Friday after) to put on a big meal in the evening.
The work starts on Sunday as volunteers begin chopping and prepping for Monday (they put in some 1,000 hours a month).
"It's incredibly important," said board member Lesa Bennett, who paused only for a few seconds because she needed to make gravy. "All the volunteers are great to have to serve the community as much as possible."
Drury High senior Francisco Alicandri has been volunteering at the Food Project "forever," said McMann. Alicandri, taking a break to laugh and joke over pie with other guests, said the question is, why not volunteer?
"There's so much to give just by helping out here," he said. "It's not just restricted to a certain amount of people, you can help anyone wants to get food at any time. I feel like there's a strong incentive there."