Community meal provides holiday sustenance for dozens

  • Basilwango, with his two children, left, Henry Joseph Basilwango, 10, and Marriam Basilwango, 11, chose dessert at the MANNA Thanksgiving day dinner in Northampton at Edwards Church. They arrived from Congo two months ago.

  • Leeann Masloski surveys the desserts before making her decision with Crystalstar Labato, a volunteer at the MANNA Thanksgiving day dinner in Northampton at Edwards Church. "I'm trying to decide the right one because I don't do this often," said Masloski talking about the choice of sweets in front of her.

  • Rebecca Martin helps her son Rowan Martin, 4, choose a dessert while her son Ayden Parnell, 11, watches at the MANNA Thanksgiving Day dinner in Northampton at Edwards Church. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • James Gryszan gets a box of desserts to go at the MANNA Thanksgiving day dinner in Northampton at Edwards Church.

  • Leeann Masloski surveys the desserts before making her decision with Crystalstar Labato, a volunteer at the MANNA Thanksgiving day dinner in Northampton at Edwards Church. "I'm trying to decide the right one because I don't do this often," said Masloski talking about the choice of sweets in front of her.

  • Rebecca Martin after being served a plate of food at the MANNA Thanksgiving day dinner in Northampton at Edwards Church. She was there with her two sons, Rowan Martin 4 (shown) and Ayden Parnell,11.

  • Carl Erickson, president of the MANNA board of directors says grace at the MANNA Thanksgiving day dinner in Northampton at Edwards Church.

  • Rebecca Martin gets a plate of food at the MANNA Thanksgiving day dinner in Northampton at Edwards Church. She was there with her two sons, Rowan Martin 4 and Ayden Parnell,11.

Staff Writer
Published: 11/23/2018 12:30:29 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Two hundred and fifty pounds of potatoes, 160 pounds of celery, 100 pounds of onions and 35 turkeys — that’s roughly how much MANNA Soup Kitchen volunteers peeled, chopped and cooked for their community Thanksgiving meal this year.

A tradition for over a decade, the event offers a free home-cooked meal for those in need. The nonprofit serves meals not just on holidays, but all year round, providing 23,000 meals each year.

At noon, about a hundred people packed into the basement of Edwards Church. They sat at circular tables with friends, family and community members and ate from plates filled with potatoes, turkey and greens.

Some volunteers served as waiters for the tables while others bustled around the hallway with plates of food and dishes.

And, of course, an elaborate dessert table was stocked with pies, cupcakes and other sweet treats.

Rebecca Martin sat at a table with her 4- and 11-year-old children along with some friends and chosen family who she met at Cathedral in the Night, an outdoor Christian community on Main Street. It’s her second year coming to the dinner.

“We have no extra family because of abuse,” she said.

“Thanksgiving is a difficult holiday for me,” she explained. “There’s a lot of loss, feelings of grief.”

Being with people who can understand that, like those sitting around her table, is important to her. She said she was there to share stories with them and not be isolated.

Across the room, Ernie Bosques was chatting and eating with friends. He’s lived in the Northampton area for 40 years, he said; his mother is in Puerto Rico and his sister in Springfield. Although he was invited to Springfield, he feared traffic on the road and decided to come to the MANNA dinner for the first time. He said the volunteers serving the table made him feel cared for.

For those not able to attend the event in-person, MANNA and a team of volunteers delivered meals to homes on Thanksgiving morning. Volunteers also staffed a takeout area where people boxed food up to take with them.

Local businesses pitched in as well. Montessori School of Northampton, Florence Pie Bar, Stop & Shop, Big Y and River Valley Co-op donated to the meal, said Kari Knapp, a MANNA Soup Kitchen board member.

There were over a hundred volunteers spread over the course several days this year, Knapp said.

Janice Francis has been volunteering at the dinner for over 30 years. Standing behind the dessert table, she said that Bill Nagle, whose Honor Court used to run the event, asked her to volunteer when they saw each other in the grocery store decades ago.

Now, she sees some familiar faces each year.

“I don’t see it as work – it’s fun,” she said.

And she plans to keep coming: “As long as I’m alive and kicking, I’ll be here,” she said with a laugh.

Ralph D’Amico was also excited to be a volunteer this year. He’s been in jail for three years and is now on work release through the Bridge to the Future program. Thanksgiving in jail, he said, meant he got to eat for about 15 minutes and then it was back to the usual.

This year has been better for D’Amico. He said he was happy to be out talking to people. He smiled as he talked about how he cut apples for a pie and helped set the tables.

“I love this — I want to stay all day,” he said.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com




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