PEABODY — By Thanksgiving evening, more than 4,400 North Shore and Merrimack Valley families and individuals will be sitting down to a traditional turkey dinner thanks to one very, very busy mom of six and a lot of volunteers.
For six years, Gina Goodwin, of Peabody, has been preparing holiday meals and meal kits, using a combination of her own funds and donations.
It started with 50 meals, many of them for the clients she sees as a visiting nurse, who would quietly ask her for leftovers.
It exploded last year, the first year of a pandemic that threw thousands of people out of work or who suffered a loss of income.
And now, with the pandemic still ongoing, rising food prices and shortages are leading some to turn to her for help.
“There’s just so much more need this year,” said Goodwin.
Goodwin created “Gina’s Giving Back,” a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/ginasgivingback) to raise money for her efforts.
By Monday, Goodwin had already sent out 2,500 of the meal kits, which include a turkey or grocery store gift card, sides like stuffing, vegetables and mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, gravy, bread, juice, a pie, and candy.
She prepares the meals for the number of people who expect to eat, from single people to dinner for 15.
The meals cost from $10 for one person to $50 for a family of four.
For many, the cost of a Thanksgiving meal just isn’t in the budget.
“I can’t tell you how many people have said, ‘I just can’t afford a meal this year,’” said Goodwin.
And the need cuts across all demographics now, said Goodwin. She’s spoken to single parents, like the dad raising five children on his own. She’s learned about a group of homeless veterans in the Merrimack Valley, who will also receive meals.
There are families who have lost loved ones to COVID.
Besides the volunteers, Goodwin gets help from her six children, who range in age from 5 to 15. Goodwin and her husband Ed adopted all of them.
“They really like helping and giving back,” said Goodwin.
But it’s not just her family. Goodwin has volunteers all over the area, including youth hockey teams like the one from Middleton who distributed meals on Tuesday, and St. John’s Prep and Essex Tech, where students collected two truckloads of donations that arrived last week.
Several area businesses have donated the use of their commercial kitchens to cook turkeys. As Goodwin was speaking to a reporter Monday, six fresh-out-of-the-oven 30-pound birds showed up from Santoro’s.
Table Talk, the Worcester pie company, donated 750 pies.
While filling others’ plates, Goodwin has had a lot on her own plate. She recently returned to work after taking 16 weeks off to assist her husband with radiation and chemotherapy for throat cancer, and after the holiday they’ll be preparing for surgery.
She’s also helping her parents and father-in-law.
But she said that in spite of the demands on her time, she cannot imagine stopping now.
In fact, she is hoping she can do something similar at Christmas — or at least provide gift cards to people in need.
For those who aren’t on social media or who want to help out for the next holiday, Goodwin can be reached at 978-457-5153 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis