Amherst Survival Center serves up ‘delicious’ holiday fare

  • Janet Howard and Philip Avila, the community meals coordinator at the Amherst Survival Center, fill to-go containers with the vegetarian meal before the sit-down Thanksgiving meal started Wednesday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Margaret Wright cuts her birthday cake after eating a meal with her sister Alice Garey and niece Cindy Phillips at the Amherst Survival Center’s sit-down Thanksgiving meal Wednesday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • John Szramowski plays the air bass while Deborah Stevens, Steve Howland and Tim Van Egmond play during the Amherst Survival Center Thanksgiving meal Wednesday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Mateo Rull luaghs while eating his Thanksgiving meal at the Amherst Survival Center, Wednesday afternoon. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Alice Garey waits for her plate of food from Deborah Lapaird at the Amherst Survival Center sit down thanksgiving meal Wednesday afternoon. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • James Rouche talks about the many Thanksgiving day meals he has had at the Amherst Survival Center while left, Deborah Stevens, Tim VanEgmond and Steve Howland play in the back ground. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Alice Garey waits for her plate of food from ,Judi Nydon and Janet Howard, at the Amherst Survival Center sit down thanksgiving meal Wednesday afternoon. Garey was there with her sister Margaret Wright and daughter Cindy Phillips to celebrate Margaret Wright's 85th birthday. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 11/23/2022 7:38:44 PM
Modified: 11/23/2022 7:38:33 PM

AMHERST — Bringing a plate filled with Thanksgiving meal staples including turkey, potato, stuffing and squash to his table, Mateo Rull of Sunderland made sure that he got to try the tamales being served.

“This is a very pleasant surprise,” Rull said as he sat down in the dining room at the Amherst Survival Center Wednesday afternoon. “We’re from Mexico, so it feels nice to have some Mexican food today.”

Soon after, he sampled a tamale. “They’re amazing,” Rull said.

Rull was among dozens of guests attending the center’s annual Thanksgiving dinner, which this year was titled “Celebrating Native American Heritage & Giving Thanks for Our Community.” It also was a return to a more traditional setup for the first time since 2019, with guests lining up to be served the meal and then enjoying it in the dining room, or side rooms, in the building, with tablecloths, centerpieces and candles, and decorations in the oranges and browns of autumn.

While a to-go option remained in the parking lot, as well as outdoor dining, many seemed to appreciate being able to have the camaraderie of friends and family they once had when the meal was held at Immanuel Lutheran Church for many years.

“I think it’s nice to have this fellowship,” said Alice Garey, a Greenfield resident sitting at a table with her sister, Margaret Wright of Amherst, who was celebrating her 85th birthday, and her daughter, Cindy Phillips, also of Greenfield.

“This is nice. I don’t have dishes to do,” said Phillips, who brought a birthday cake for her aunt.

“I’m so impressed, so grateful,” Phillips said after finishing her meal.

Wright said she came last year and the Survival Center meal ended up being the only turkey she had for Thanksgiving, since her son is a vegetarian. Wright said the meal was “delicious.”

The traditional Thanksgiving fixings were supplemented with a handful of Indigenous dishes prepared under the direction of Philip Avila, the center’s community meals coordinator.

They included the three sisters succotash, with lima beans, corn and squash, which he said is a fairly typical Indigenous recipe from the Navajo, wojapi sauce, a Native American simple berry sauce, and a salad featuring maple vinaigrette and cranberries, sunflower seeds, corn and winter greens, inspired by Sioux chef Sean Sherman.

After people settled in, Survival Center Executive Director Lev Ben-Ezra addressed them. “It is so wonderful to have this event again in our space,” Ben-Ezra said.

She also read a land acknowledgment reminding those gathered that the Amherst land once belonged to the Pocumtuck and Nipmuc tribes.

The walls of the center are currently lined with portraits of Indigenous individuals, such as Charlotte Black Elk, a political and environmental activist, and novelist Sherman Alexie

Ben-Ezra said the center was prepared to serve 300 meals and that weeks of planning went into it, with the food coming from purchases, partnerships with local restaurants and donations, such as several turkeys prepared by Mass Dining. About 40 to 50 volunteers put the event together.

By the end of Wednesday, the center had given out 381 meals and served 357 individuals.

As people enjoyed the food, the dinner was accompanied by music from Tim Van Egmond, playing the hammered dulcimer, joined by musicians Steve Howland and Deborah Stevens. For a time, too, one of the guests, Army veteran John Szramowski of Amherst, played with them using what he said was his “air bass guitar.”

Eating a slice of apple pie made by teens at NorthStar in Sunderland, and drinking a cup of hot coffee, Michael Goodman of Northampton said he has been coming to the Survival Center for meals for about 10 months, and rode his bike to town to make sure he could have Thanksgiving there, as well.

“It’s overwhelming in its greatness,” Goodman said.

James Roche of Amherst, who served in the Marines, said he’s been at the Thanksgiving meals for 30 years and, like those who gave a round of applause to the staff and kitchen workers for the work they put in, said he is thankful.

“It’s great,” Roche said. “They’ve been good to me over here.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.
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