A different Thanksgiving: Sit-down dinners canceled, but meals aplenty for people in need 

  • Theresa Helke fills to-go containers at the MANNA Thanksgiving Day meal, Nov. 28, 2019. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 11/16/2020 8:05:22 PM

Staying safe for Thanksgiving 2020 in COVID-19 pandemic comes with state advisories for people to avoid their usual family gatherings.

Similar precautions to reduce the chances of transmitting the coronavirus are being put in place for the area’s sit-down community meals that have become a local tradition, including the Manna meal in Northampton and the Not Bread Alone dinner in Amherst, both on Thanksgiving Day, as well as the Thanksgiving eve luncheon put on by the Amherst Survival Center.

Manna will still be offering a meal this year, but meals are available only for pickup or delivery.

“Thanksgiving plans look different for everyone this year. We want to make sure people know we’re doing this and it’s available to them,” said Nora Finnerty, development director of Manna Community Kitchen.

Meals can be picked up from noon to 2 p.m. on the steps of Edwards Church, or delivered between 10 a.m. and noon to those in Northampton, Easthampton, Southampton, Westhampton, Whately, Hatfield, Hadley and Williamsburg. Manna is encouraging those interested in a meal or volunteering to help to fill out a form that can be found on Manna’s website at mannanorthampton.com. Registration is encouraged but not required to pick up a meal, but is required for delivery, according to Finnerty. Those without internet access can call 413-695-3514 to register.

Typically, there is a sit-down meal at the church on Thanksgiving, but that will not happen this year. “That’s something we always look forward to — that community aspect of it,” said Finnerty. “But of course, our guests are understanding of the fact that it can’t be that way this year.”

She added, “The one thing we’re especially sad about … for the unhoused population, we aren’t able to give them a space to be that day.”

Volunteers plan to serve coffee and cider at a stand outside of the church on Thanksgiving “just to bring some sense of normalcy back to it,” she said.

The organization anticipates serving more meals this Thanksgiving than in the past, as it’s seen demand increase this year amid the pandemic.

“We’re serving double if not triple the amount of meals,” Finnerty said, noting that volunteers are ready for a lot of requests next week. “We’re more than open to preparing as many meals that are requested of us.”


Prioritizing the safety of the volunteers who normally prepare the food for a community meal the day before Thanksgiving, Amherst Survival Center Executive Director Lev Ben-Ezra said much of the work will take place in advance and off site.

For instance, Ben-Ezra said her local cousins will be swapping out their own family gathering to be at the North Amherst location to bake pies that will be part of the Thanksgiving to Go event, taking the place of the students at North Star Self-Directed Learning for Teens who have handled that responsibility.

Like the usual sitdown meal at Immanuel Luetheran Church, Thanksgiving to Go will be held the day before Thanksgiving, from noon to 3 p.m., but will instead be done from the center’s headquarters at 138 Sunderland Road.

Ben-Ezra said turkey, gravy, potatoes and other sides will be served. University of Massachusetts Dining is donating some of the products, along with other contributions from Johnny’s Roadside Diner and The Spoke, and The Kitchen Garden farm.

All food pantry families will also be getting a breast or whole turkey, depending on the size of the family, in advance, with additional produce and canned vegetables.

There is not going to be a social occasion as in the past, where people join together to talk and listen to music.

“We’re definitely sad not to meet that significant need at this time,” Ben-Ezra said.

Not Bread Alone, the soup kitchen program of Center for Human Development, will continue to be the only site in Amherst offering a Thanksgiving Day dinner from the First Congregational Church, 165 Main St.

Bob Stover, coordinator for the meal, said volunteers will be preparing and distributing meals beginning at 1:30 p.m. from the covered sidewalk behind and alongside the church.

Easthampton, Southampton

The Easthampton Community Center will be offering Thanksgiving dishes this year, which will be distributed as part of its regular food distributions.

The ingredients for the meal will feature either a turkey or a roasting chicken and all the fixings. Those interested will be able to pick up their meals at the pantry’s food distribution this Wednesday from 9 a.m. to noon and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m at 12 Clark St. There will also be a distribution of Thanksgiving meals from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday.

Those who want to get a meal must sign up for the Community’s Center’s food pantry program, which can be done this Wednesday prior to receiving a meal.

Robin Bialecki, executive director of the Easthampton Community Center, said that giving out the meals allows the center to offer some sense of normal for families during the pandemic.

“We’re really happy to be able to do that,” said Bialecki.

The Southampton Community Cupboard will be distributing Thanksgiving dishes on the Saturday prior to the holiday.

“It’s something that the pantry has always done,” said Candice Iwanicki, who runs the pantry with her husband Mike.

The pantry has ordered the fixings for 32 Thanksgiving meals, which it will distribute at its 212 College Highway location at the First Congregational Church of Southampton on Saturday from 10 to 11 a.m. Turkey, broth, gravy, stuffing mix, powdered mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, vegetables, a corn muffin mix and various dessert mixes will be included in the meals.

People have already pre-registered to receive the meals, but there are two still available as of Monday afternoon. Those interested in receiving one of the remaining meals should leave a message at the church at 413-527-1173.


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