Food pantries tweak Thanksgiving meal plans amid turkey shortage in Easthampton, Southampton

  • A Thanksgiving dinner AP FILE PHOTO/MATTHEW MEAD

Staff Writer
Published: 11/18/2021 4:10:39 PM

EASTHAMPTON — A turkey shortage has changed the way the Easthampton Community Center’s food pantry and Southampton Community Cupboard is handling its annual distribution of Thanksgiving dishes.

Production of turkeys is down compared to the average year and inventories on frozen turkeys are 24% below their three-year average volumes, according to a November report released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

As such, both agencies were informed by their suppliers that there was a shortage and they might not be able to guarantee enough turkeys for distribution.

At the Southampton Community Cupboard, its husband-and-wife co-managers, Candice “Candy” Iwanicki and Michael Iwanicki are distributing gift cards for people to purchase turkeys on their own. The Iwanickis have already distributed 23 of the 26 gift cards and have been providing a kit that contains macaroni and cheese, cranberry sauce, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, two kinds of vegetables and a boxed cake mix.

Last week, the cupboard distributed 900 pounds of food.

Initially, Candice Iwanicki said that she planned to hold a drive-thru for this coming Saturday, but when the cupboard’s supplier wasn’t able to guarantee availability for turkeys, she opted to distribute the gift cards sooner to give people a chance to pick one up sooner rather than later.

Easthampton

In anticipation of the shortage, the Easthampton Community Center began its distribution of turkeys this past Friday to those who were already signed up for the center’s food pantry program before Nov. 1, said Executive Director Robin Bialecki.

“We’ve already given out 300 turkeys already,” said Bialecki, adding that she had received half the amount she had initially ordered. Some patrons also have been given gift cards in the amount of the price of a turkey.

The food pantry has seen an especially large influx of the families it’s serving during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year at this time, Bialecki said the pantry was serving 1,100 families a week, whereas this year, it’s serving 2,500. In October alone, the pantry signed up 325 new families to its food program.

With more families to serve, the pantry is distributing 60,000 to 70,000 pounds of food each week. Bialecki said the pantry distributed 22,000 pounds of food this past Friday.

“From (last) March to (this) March, we distributed 1 million pounds of food,” she said. “Now we’re on track for 2 million pounds of food.”

The center also has been distributing a prepared bag of fixings and side dishes, like stuffing and potatoes as well as items for those that are gluten-free and have food allergies. The ingredients for the meal feature either a turkey or a roasting chicken and all the fixings.

Those who were already signed up for the center’s food pantry program will also be able to pick turkeys on Friday, Nov. 19, from 1 to 7 p.m. Under its COVID-19 safety measures that were adopted last year, distribution remains outside its 12 Clark St. building.

“Anyone that’s recently signed up, we have to make them wait,” she said. “We want to make sure we have enough for the people who were already in the program.”

Regular food distribution hours are Monday and Wednesday from 9 a.m. to noon and 4 to 7 p.m.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.

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