Thanksgiving meals feed hundreds while volunteers enjoy tradition

Last modified: Friday, November 27, 2015

NORTHAMPTON — With 40 turkeys, 17 hams and four cases of cranberry sauce, the annual Thanksgiving meal at Edwards Church in Northampton made a holiday celebration possible for many who say they would have gone without.

Irene Landry, 70, of Holyoke, said she would not have been able to afford a turkey dinner on her own.

“I’ve never had candles at a table,” she said. “It’s beautiful. I almost cried.”

Landry got a ride to the meal from her neighbor, Joe Bass, 67, who plays guitar and harmonica in front of the Main Street store Faces in the afternoons. They were among around 150 diners who came to the free annual Thanksgiving meal sponsored by the MANNA Soup Kitchen at the Northampton church on Thursday.

Meanwhile, in Amherst, Thanksgiving meals were served at the Senior Center and First Congregational Church of Amherst.

The meal in the church, coordinated by Not Bread Alone, served around 100 people, kitchen leader Connie Rust Conn said. She added that the menu aimed to accommodate people with different dietary preferences, such as vegans, vegetarians and those who are lactose-intolerant. Choices included conventional offerings such as turkey and ham, as well as creative dishes such as vegetarian stuffing, apple and onion soup and Nottingham pudding.

“We had a really wonderful, wonderful Thanksgiving dinner,” said Conn, of Hadley. “Just a real variety of folks came in, and then all the volunteers got to eat and have their dinner.”

There were a total of 25 volunteers who put on the Thanksgiving meal, she said.

Leading kitchen duties with Conn was meal coordinator Bob Stover, of Belchertown. He said the celebration also included live music by singers and guitar players.

“We had a very robust turnout today,” Stover said. “It went very, very well.”

Special delivery

Bob Saalfrank, MANNA coordinator and head chef at the Northampton meal, said that in addition to the people served at the dinner, the organization also delivered 289 meals to people’s homes earlier in the day.

Bridge Street School third-grader Ada Kelly, 8, who was serving for the first time alongside her grandmother Renée Denenfield of Northampton, said she and her mom and sister had been among those helping to deliver the meals to homes.

Volunteers at the meal helped with tasks ranging from food preparation to serving to refilling glasses of cider. It was Denenfield’s sixth year helping with the event. She said her family had their Thanksgiving dinner the night before so they could devote the holiday to volunteering.

“I think it’s a nice opportunity to give back to the people in the community,” Denenfield said.

Dining at one of the tables was Miguel Santiago, 31, who said the meal has been a place to make friends as well as find resources for dealing with homelessness. He said he usually stays in a shelter in Northampton.

“People try to help you as best to their extent, and the food is really good,” Santiago said.

Marty Mirabal, 27, who said he has been without a home for almost a year after suffering emotional problems, comes to the meal at the church because of “free food,” and “good food.” He plays his guitar on Main Street, he said.

Stephen Graves, 65, of Northampton, said he had helped set up and wash dishes at the event for 25 years. When asked why he came back to eat, he said, “To see my old friends.”

Volunteer Janice Francis, of Florence, said she looks forward to helping at the event in the same way people might look forward to going to a relative’s house for the holiday.

“It’s fun,” she said. “It’s part of me.”

Gena Mangiaratti can be reached at


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