NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — More than two dozen volunteers on Sunday were making sure the Berkshire Food Project was ready for its annual Thanksgiving feast.
"We wouldn't get this off the ground if we didn't have them," said Valerie Schwarz, executive director of the nonprofit that offers free lunch every weekday. "They peeled hundreds pounds."
Some 200 or so people are expected to attend meal, which begins at 4 p.m. on Monday at First Congregational Church. (No lunch at the Food Project on Monday and Thursday this week.)
"It's important that this is all homemade," said Schwarz, as volunteers finished prepping for Monday's service. "This is a homemade meal where everyone can get together."
Three tables of college students made short work of 80 pounds of turnip, 200 pounds of potatoes and nearly as many pounds of squash.
Viv Valdez of Boston, a junior at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, coordinated her group's efforts thorugh the college's Center for Service and Citizenship. Their participation was in conjunction with the "Hunger and Homelessness Week" efforts at the MCLA, during which students also volunteered at the Friendship Center Food Pantry.
"I rounded up the volunteers and got them down here," said Valdez, a theater major who has spent time volunteering through her church and tutoring young children. "I pretty much love anything to do with community service."
One of the volunteers, freshman Louis Torres of Worcester, was busy cutting up squash across from her. "I love volunteering and helping out," he said.
Members of the Williams College football team split their efforts, with one half chopping up hard squash and turnips with next half coming in on Monday to serve.
"It's a great work out," laughed Hanson Koota, using a rubber mallet to give his knife more force. "I'm having a great time," said Russell Monyette, as the group talked about their favorite Thanksgiving foods.
The help also included Olympic Pizza cooking seven full turkeys; another seven turkey breasts will be in the oven at First Congregational. The annual Pie Palooza at Williamstown's First Congregational Church resulted in 37 pies for Monday and MountainOne Bank donated apple cider.
"I even have people who are going to come in and get the laundry," Schwarz said. "We're going to have a lot tomorrow, all the aprons and towels."
But the cost of putting on the event is rising. There's turkey shortage, said Schwarz, and so none were available from the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, and the price of squash and turnip has risen.
The Brown family of Florida Mountain donated 30 pounds of the famed turnips but the rest had to be purchased.
Donations can be sent to PO Box 651, North Adams MA 01247 or via PayPal here; it could also use kitchen knives and peelers.
"I want them to have Florida Mountain turnips because so many grew up eating them ... it brings back good memories for them. ... It's just a special time."
This is the 23rd year Schwarz had put on the Thanksgiving feast. It used to be served at noon but was changed to 4 p.m. some years ago so people could bring their children as well.
It may be the only holiday meal some of these people will get, and it comes at the end of the month when people may be running out of their food benefits. Schwarz said the regular lunches are also seeing on uptick.
"We've seen an increase in the number of people we've never seen," she said. "They seem to be younger, in their 20s and 30s."
Most seem to be young men, either out of work or stopping during their lunch break and beginning to bring their friends with them.
"There's so many that come in here ... this is their family and their community," Schwarz said, giving the annual Thanksgiving dinner more of a family feel. "It's just so fun. Everybody has a good time."
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