Amherst Survival Center hosts Thanksgiving dinner for 150

  • Joe Duda, with his daughter, Abaigeal Duda laughs while waiting for the Amherst Survival Center Thanksgiving dinner to start at the Immanuel Lutheran Church on Wednesday, November 27,2019. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Joe Duda, laughs with Jean Plouffe and Lori Danguay while they wait for the Amherst Survival Center Thanksgiving dinner to start at the Immanuel Lutheran Church Wednesday, November 27,2019. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Lev Ben-Ezra, the executive director of the Amherst Survival Center starts the Thanksgiving meal off on Wednesday, November 27,2019. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Craig Goff and Laura Kaye, volunteers at the Amherst Survival Center Thanksgiving meal, cut Lasagna Wednesday, November 27,2019. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Craig Goff, a volunteer with the Amherst Survival Center Thanksgiving meal, cuts lasagna Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Rick Stegeman serves himself at the Amherst Survival Center Thanksgiving dinner Wednesday, November 27,2019. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Dee Waterman and Nancy Goff serve pie at the Amherst Survival Center Thanksgiving dinner Wednesday, November 27,2019. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Pies waiting for takers at the Amherst Survival Center Thanksgiving dinner Wednesday, November 27,2019. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Dee Waterman serves pie to George Vazquez at the Amherst Survival Center Thanksgiving dinner Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 11/27/2019 10:23:20 PM

AMHERST — An atmosphere in which everybody is enjoying food and the company of others is what brings Belchertown resident Joseph “Zip” Duda to the annual Thanksgiving meal put on by the Amherst Survival Center.

“It’s the best place to come,” said Duda, who was accompanied by daughter Abaigeal to the Wednesday afternoon event at the Immanuel Lutheran Church. “It’s good food and everybody’s so pleasant and happy.”

Also sitting at his table was Jean Plouffe of Granby, a volunteer at the center.

“People are so lovely and work so hard to put on this dinner,” Plouffe said. “You get to see people you haven’t seen in 10 years.”

They were among more than 150 people partaking in a meal featuring a dozen turkeys, as well as vegan turkey roast and gravy, and 32 side dishes, including mashed potato, stuffing, roasted vegetables, squash and fruit salad. For dessert, students at North Star: Self Directed Learning for Teens made 30 pies, apple and pumpkin.

Becky Lockwood, kitchen coordinator at the survival center, said this was the seventh year she has worked the meal, but the first time she has overseen the 26 volunteers and eight staff who make it possible.

She sent out 35 to 40 emails seeking volunteers, and within six days had every spot filled. “It’s pretty heartwarming,” Lockwood said.

Many volunteers return year after year, as well as those who make dishes and keep a custom alive of sharing their holiday traditions.

“Folks bring their Thanksgiving to us,” Lockwood said.

Lev Ben-Ezra, who as the survival center’s executive director was at the meal for the first time, applauded those who donated food.

“It warms my heart, the generosity of the community,” Ben-Ezra said.

Returning to handle kitchen duties was Don Sabola of Hadley, a chef at the University of Massachusetts who comes back each year so he can work alongside others heating the turkeys and other food.

“It’s like a family,” Sabola said of those in the kitchen with him.

Carving the turkey was longtime volunteer Jim Rising of Amherst. He estimates that he’s been handling the chore for about 20 years, with less than an hour to get all the meat off the bones.

He was joined by new carvers, the husband-and-wife team of Jeff and Kathy Sward of Belchertown.

“We thought this year we’d do a volunteer effort,” Jeff Sward said “It went smoothly. It was amazing how fast it went.”

Another new volunteer at the meal was Dee Waterman, who has been a regular at the center’s food pantry. Waterman said her job was to hand people their slices of pies, and then squirt whipped cream onto the slices.

For Ben-Ezra, the Thanksgiving dinner is the kickoff of the holiday season, with Tuesday starting the holiday gift program in which the center will accept books and games for children, accessible to all families who use the food pantry. Gifts can be donated through an Amazon wish list, by making a financial contribution or dropping off at a site listed on the center’s website.

Among guests at the dinner were state Rep. Mindy Domb, formerly the executive director at the survival center, and state Sen. Jo Comerford.

As in past years, the meal was accompanied by music, with Tim van Egmond playing the hammered dulcimer and other musicians playing the fiddle, banjo, guitar and piano, including Avi Randall and Ronald Meck.

“I like the music, the folk music,” said Rick Stegeman of Amherst. “And of course I like the food, the turkey and stuffing and mashed potato.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com


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