Easthampton Community Center preps tons of turkeys for giveaway

  • Robin Bialecki, Easthampton Community Center’s executive director, has been giving out hundreds of frozen turkeys for Thanksgiving. Gazette Staff/Caitlin Ashworth

  • Maple Elementary School and White Brook Middle School have been competing to see which school will collect the most cans for the Easthampton Community Center. Submitted photo

  • Maple Elementary School and White Brook Middle School have been competing to see which school will collect the most cans for the Easthampton Community Center. Submitted photo

Published: 11/17/2017 5:43:19 PM

EASTHAMPTON — As leaves fall from the trees and the nights get colder, Easthampton Community Center prepares for the winter season, with the help of the city’s residents.

Hundreds of Thanksgiving turkeys packed the freezers at the center last Friday. Volunteers unloaded crates and boxes filled with canned foods, and the center’s executive director, Robin Bialecki, stocked up a room in the center’s basement.

“Do you have turkeys and kids’ jackets?” someone asked over the phone.

It’s a common question for Bialecki this time of year. The answer is yes; efforts of Easthampton residents help make sure those in need are supported.

Bialecki said that, thanks to the Give ‘Em The Bird 5K Thanksgiving Run last year, she has 800 turkeys and 100 chickens to give away, along with stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy and more. The food should feed the more than 3,500 participants in the center’s pantry program.

Over the past week, the center has given away more than 500 turkeys and chickens.

“The goal is to make sure we get a Thanksgiving dinner to everyone that needs one,” Bialecki said.

This year, the 5K run also includes a 2K walk at Millside Park. Online registration has closed, but runners can still register in person on race day. All proceeds will go toward turkeys for the 2018 holiday season.

The event’s Facebook page said that, as of Sunday evening, 152 people planned to run in the race on Thanksgiving Day, and nearly 300 more had indicated their interest.

The race was started in 2015 by residents Tom Raffensperger, Eric Poulin and Pat Brough. Brough said more than 400 people came out to last year’s race, raising $15,000 for the community center.

Using money raised from last year’s race, Bialecki said the center was able to purchase twice as many turkeys as she could before the fundraising event. In the past, the center would run out of turkeys fairly quickly, Bialecki added.

The center has grown from 45 members of the pantry program to 1,160 in the past decade, Bialecki said. It could be that there’s more of a need, she said, or that more people are aware of the center’s services. The center serves people in Easthampton, Southampton and Westhampton, as well as those from as far away as Orange. Bialecki said the center is the only one is Western Massachusetts that offers gluten-free options.

And food goes fast. Bialecki said the center helps an average of 500 people a week.

Various clubs, schools, churches and organizations continuously pitch in.

White Brook Middle School recently had a coat drive for the center, an effort that helps Bialecki make sure everyone in the pantry program has a coat for the winter.

Students who are part of the WE Free the Children program at White Brook Middle School and Maple Elementary School are competing in a canned food drive as well.

Teacher and adviser for the WE group Judith Breier said the drive was extended two days, now ending on Tuesday, because “competition is fierce.”

Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at cashworth@gazettenet.com.

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