Meal distributions benefit those in need across Franklin County
|Published: 11-20-2023 5:35 PM
Thanks to charity efforts across Franklin County, organizers have spread thanks far beyond their own dinner tables by distributing Thanksgiving meals to families in need.
With help from about a dozen Turners Falls High School students and community generosity, as many as 22 families will get to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal.
“We know our families, we know our community,” said School Resource Officer Dan Miner. “We know who could use a helping hand.”
For roughly five years, physical education teacher and Athletic Director Adam Graves and Miner have teamed up with the school’s Athletic Leadership Council to discreetly deliver goods to disadvantaged students and their families. While it’s a year-round effort, Graves and Miner help organize fundraisers and food drives during school sporting events in preparation for a large-scale season of giving.
Last week, students on the Athletic Leadership Council filled 22 bags with all the Thanksgiving meal essentials: turkey, potatoes, stuffing and squash, gravy, pie and corn muffins. The meals will be delivered during the day to maintain an element of privacy for the receiving family.
“I’m glad we’re able to give food to the other members of our community that are less fortunate,” said sophomore Jackson Cogswell.
Graves said the tradition began a few years ago after he and Miner realized that in their respective positions — which kept them at the school after hours — they noticed there was a need among kids experiencing food insecurity.
“We decided to combine forces,” said Miner.
Graves and Miner began seeking out students who might be in need, making sure to keep their conversations respectful and confidential between themselves, the student and assisting staff member Amber Richardson. Teachers will sometimes recommend students, too, Graves said. Together, they eventually set up the nonprofit Helping Hands to accept donations.
“Where we get a lot of praise is it’s highly confidential,” Miner said.
Junior Madi Liimatainen said it’s nice to be able to give back to the community and to make sure everyone has the chance to enjoy a nice Thanksgiving meal.
“It’s good for them to enjoy it like every family would,” Liimatainen said.
Graves said the nonprofit received food and monetary donations from Jim Wright of C&S Wholesaler Grocers, Plainville Farm in Hadley and the Montague Elks Lodge.
Those interested in donating can mail checks made out to “Helping Hands” to Turners Falls High School, 222 Turnpike Road, Montague, MA 01351.
Members of the Thomas Memorial Golf & Country Club teamed up with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office TRIAD program once again on Monday morning to provide and assemble 150 Thanksgiving meals containing “anything you see on a Thanksgiving Day table,” according to organizer Chet Czernich. Half of the meals will be distributed to local senior centers and the other half were set to be picked up by the Salvation Army.
Czernich previously said the charity effort has grown significantly over the years, with 33 boxes being distributed the first time. He mentioned he got the idea because his 1964 graduating class of Ralph C. Mahar Regional School did something similar.
Table Talk Pie Co.’s factory in Worcester had been a regular contributor, donating 100 pies this year, Czernich said. Money for the meal distribution is generated from a golf tournament, and Czernich is thankful each year for the community sponsors and contributing businesses.
Local DJ and television personality Robert “Bobby C” Campbell gave out Thanksgiving meals to families for the eighth year on Friday.
“Another day another year, and most importantly we finally got a year with nice weather,” Campbell said, remarking on the warm weather during Friday’s distribution.
Volunteers packed up bags of food and gave them to people in vehicles that filtered through the Bernardston Senior Center’s parking lot, amounting to 120 meals. However, instead of giving out turkeys, Campbell said each family received a $25 Stop & Shop gift card that they can use to buy their own turkeys for 49 cents per pound.
Campbell raised $17,000 for the annual distribution, which he said will feed 2,700 people. Organizations that contribute to Campbell’s fundraiser include local chapters of the Knights of Columbus and the Moose Lodge, as well as business owners.
This distribution will also provide monetary donations to Stone Soup Cafe, Salvation Army, the Northfield Food Pantry and Living Waters Assembly of God.
The same group of volunteers helps out every year. This includes Barbara Viencek and her family.
“The point of Thanksgiving is family and getting together,” Viencek said. “We make that happen as a community.”
Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne. Reach Bella Levavi at 413-930-4579 or email@example.com.