Thanksgiving dinner will be different this year, but it’s still happening for many through the efforts of volunteers and nonprofit organizations that have found a new level of purpose under COVID-19.
“We gave out 1,200 turkeys by now, will probably give out 1,600,” said Corey Jackson, executive director of Peabody-based Citizens Inn and its Haven From Hunger food pantry. “Last year, we did about 530 turkeys or so, so it’s a pretty substantial growth year over year.”
Going from 530 to 1,600 turkeys constitutes a 300% jump in demand, not far off from the 369% increase in new registrations Haven From Hunger saw this year, according to Jackson. From his office, the spike in demand is led by “families who have had to use the pantry for the first time in their lives.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many locations that typically serve free Thanksgiving dinners are either changing to “take out” meals or will not be serving a meal this year.
“The other factor is that other restaurants that used to provide meals during Thanksgiving aren’t doing that this year or have closed,” Jackson said. “A lot is falling onto our lap from other sources that people used to be able to get Thanksgiving meals from.”
Many communities have run programs this year where the need has already exceeded the supply. That includes efforts from Salem’s Council on Aging, which was responsible for pulling together 150 meals paid for by the Friends of the Council on Aging and then using donations from local officials and private residents to make another 150 happen.
“We put it out there pretty early so we could capture those who needed a meal,” said Teresa Arnold, director of Salem’s Council on Aging. “Today, we’re delivering the ingredients for a Thanksgiving meal to those who didn’t have the funds to purchase a meal.”
At Beverly Bootstraps, the organization broke away from the traditional turkey-and-sides offerings and gave families a bag of groceries with a $20 gift card to a grocery store so they could buy a turkey or — depending on availability for the birds — anything else that can work as a centerpiece on Thanksgiving afternoon.
“It was a simple change to give out gift cards,” said Sam Prescott, food assistant supervisor at Beverly Bootstraps. “We also had a large food drive for this Thanksgiving bag. We had one donor say, ‘I’m not having family over, so I decided to donate one bag for each family that would’ve come to my house.’”
And those bags, it turned out, weren’t lasting long.
“Every time we turned around, we’d empty a bin and it’d be full again,” Prescott said. “People are always so grateful, and this year as well, even if they aren’t having a gathering, it’s still great to have that same Thanksgiving food to get people in the spirit. It’s been a mood booster, for sure.”
Those looking to volunteer their time on the North Shore can still do so with Citizens Inn by Wednesday. For more on how to help, call 978-531-9775.
Where to get a Thanksgiving meal
Some local organizations are still offering free turkey dinners on Thanksgiving, Thursday, Nov. 26. The dinners are available to all. Here’s where to find them:
Citizens Inn Haven from Hunger, 71 Wallis St., Peabody, will provide Thanksgiving meals to-go between 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. 978-531-1530.
Brother’s Deli, 41 Market St., Lynn, will offer take-out Thanksgiving meals, available for pickup from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. 781-581-3363.
My Brother’s Table, 98 Willow St., Lynn, will provide to-go meals to individuals and families from noon to 6 p.m. 781-595-3224. To volunteer, email email@example.com; volunteer space is limited.