, Salem, MA

November 27, 2013

Salem charity donates Thanksgiving dinner to 117 families


---- — SALEM — A two-story house on Saunders Street, which overlooks the North River, has gone through what can only be described as a turkey transformation.

Yesterday the driveway was lined with frozen turkeys from Market Basket and cardboard boxes filled with Thanksgiving food and supplies. Tables at the back of the driveway were stacked with Land O’Lakes butter and milk.

Inside, the living room of the first-floor apartment looked like a food pantry, with one wall blanketed with plastic shelving from Home Depot lined with cans of corn, French-style green beans and cranberry sauce. Across the room, a sofa was piled high with boxes of turkey gravy.

“This is how I watched the (Patriots’) game the other night,” said Melanie McKinnon. “I was surrounded by potatoes and rolls.”

As she has for the past few years, McKinnon, 38, the founder of the charity “It Starts With Me!,” has turned over her apartment, not to mention her life, to making Thanksgiving a happy one for scores of North Shore families.

With help from Salem High students and a volunteer corps of friends and family, McKinnon delivered complete Thanksgiving dinners — aluminum foil roasting plans and all — to 117 families this year, which represented more than 550 individuals.

Each year, the Thanksgiving charity has grown. It started six years ago with fewer than 10 families.

Most of the donations go the Salem schools, which serve as drop-off points. Pickup trucks came and went yesterday from McKinnon’s driveway with turkey deliveries.

“Some of the schools doubled what they asked for last year,” she said.

Many of the Thanksgiving packages are donated anonymously. School principals and staff know their families and make sure the food gets to the right homes.

The complete turkey boxes go to others, as well, including local veterans. McKinnon’s father, Tom, a 64-year-old veteran, makes some of those deliveries himself.

“We’re the laborers,” Tom McKinnon said after helping load his truck. “I need a chiropractor. ... I’m getting old.”

The charity also donates boxes of food to local pantries.

Some of the youngest volunteers came from Melissa St. Pierre’s advanced health class at Salem High. They got yesterday off to work on this school project.

“I’d be in English class right now,” said a smiling Hayley Gaynor, 16, who was part of the driveway work crew. “I’m all good.”

Salem High also held a canned food drive and donated pies baked by a culinary arts class.

Many friends reach out to contacts for food, donations and gift certificates, anything that will help the cause. During the year, McKinnon and her friends organize fun charity events, like an annual bowling outing and horseshoe tournament, to raise funds for this and other causes.

“This year was a big group effort,” she said.

But it’s worth it, she said, because Thanksgiving is special.

“Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday,” she said. “It doesn’t have to do with money and it’s not about giving gifts. To me, it’s family time.”

Tom Dalton can be reached at