‘One big family’: Manna serves more than 1,000 Thanksgiving meals both in person and takeout

 David Maldonado digs in at Manna Soup Kitchen’s Thanksgiving community meal, held at Edwards Church in Northampton.

David Maldonado digs in at Manna Soup Kitchen’s Thanksgiving community meal, held at Edwards Church in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

 Nora Finnerty, a board member at Manna Soup Kitchen, gives a volunteer driver instructions for delivering a Thanksgiving meal. The organization saw more than 1,000 meal deliveries this Thanksgiving, a record high.

Nora Finnerty, a board member at Manna Soup Kitchen, gives a volunteer driver instructions for delivering a Thanksgiving meal. The organization saw more than 1,000 meal deliveries this Thanksgiving, a record high. STAFF PHOTO/ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

 From right, Patricia Taylor, Joanna Tillinghast, and Suzanne Sauer help serve meals as part of volunteer work for Manna Soup Kitchen’s Thanksgiving community meal. More than 100 people volunteered to make the dinner possible, working multiple days to prepare, package and serve the meals.

From right, Patricia Taylor, Joanna Tillinghast, and Suzanne Sauer help serve meals as part of volunteer work for Manna Soup Kitchen’s Thanksgiving community meal. More than 100 people volunteered to make the dinner possible, working multiple days to prepare, package and serve the meals. STAFF PHOTO/ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

 Oliver Hoyt, 10, with his father Colin helpin prepare meals for Manna Soup Kitchen’s Thanksgiving meal. More than 100 people volunteered to make the dinner possible, working multiple days to prepare, package and serve the meals.

Oliver Hoyt, 10, with his father Colin helpin prepare meals for Manna Soup Kitchen’s Thanksgiving meal. More than 100 people volunteered to make the dinner possible, working multiple days to prepare, package and serve the meals. STAFF PHOTO/ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

 Lulu Rozene, together with her daughter Ali, 7, enjoy a Thanksgiving meal at Edwards Church in Northampton, served by volunteers at Manna Soup Kitchen. The organization has served Thanksgiving meals to families for more than 35 years.

Lulu Rozene, together with her daughter Ali, 7, enjoy a Thanksgiving meal at Edwards Church in Northampton, served by volunteers at Manna Soup Kitchen. The organization has served Thanksgiving meals to families for more than 35 years. STAFF PHOTO/ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

 Tom and Lulu Rozene, together with their 7-year-old daughter Ali, enjoy a Thanksgiving meal together at Edwards Church in Northampton, served by volunteers at Manna Soup Kitchen. The organization has served Thanksgiving meals to families for more than 35 years.

Tom and Lulu Rozene, together with their 7-year-old daughter Ali, enjoy a Thanksgiving meal together at Edwards Church in Northampton, served by volunteers at Manna Soup Kitchen. The organization has served Thanksgiving meals to families for more than 35 years. STAFF PHOTO/ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

By ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

Staff Writer

Published: 11-23-2023 3:18 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Several years ago, Tom Rozene and his family were struggling with homelessness and food insecurity. But on Thanksgiving Day that year, they knew they could go to Edwards Church in Northampton to get a free meal, courtesy of dozens of volunteers with Manna Soup Kitchen who spend multiple days preparing and serving hundreds of people within the community.

Now, Rozene and his family are no longer homeless, but they still come to the Thanksgiving Day event, including this year, in a sign of solidarity with other families who may be experiencing what they went through.

“We wouldn’t have eaten a few times if it wasn’t for their kindness,” Rozene said. “I can’t say enough of the work they do.”

He later added, “We’re stabilized now, but it’s good to be here with other families in the same situation.”

The Rozenes aren’t the only ones, as Manna this year prepared a record number of meals, with more than 1,000 people ordering takeout dinners, according to the organization’s board president Karen McAmis.

“We are trying to reach as many people as possible who might need a meal,” McAmis said. “It’s continuing our mission of serving people in need, but it’s also creating community.”

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For 37 years, Manna Soup Kitchen, based at the nearby St. John’s Episcopal Church, has held the Thanksgiving community meal event for those who might not otherwise have a place to go on the holiday. It includes people struggling with homelessness, addiction, or people who are elderly without much family nearby to be with.

“We have about 100 to 150 volunteers and three kitchens to make this happen,” said Kaitlyn Ferrari, the development director for Manna. “It’s something we get really excited about and people really look forward to it.”

Volunteers prepare signature Thanksgiving fixings as part of the food served, including turkey, stuffing, squash, green beans, cornbread and cranberry sauce. People who show up before the meal’s official noon start time also are able to grab coffee and pastries before volunteers begin serving meals.

In addition to the hundreds who show up in person, many now also can have their meals delivered, an option that has exploded in popularity since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We actually had deliveries before the pandemic, but it’s much bigger now,” said Nora Finnerty, a Manna board member. “It used to be that people would just come and get the food themselves to deliver. Now it’s become a really huge operation.”

The operation goes smooth thanks to numerous volunteers, as the people who prepare and package the meals hand them off to others tasked with bringing them from the kitchen to the crowded parking lot, where delivery drivers wait. 

Two such volunteers this year were Colin Hoyt and his 10-year-old son, Oliver. It was the first year of volunteering for the two, who worked together in the kitchen to prepare mashed potatoes, and Oliver also helped bring packaged meals to drivers.

“Last year, we had a really big family Thanksgiving meal,” Colin Hoyt said. “This year, we wanted to give back.”

Among those enjoying a Thanksgiving meal was David Maldonado, who says he comes every year to the event. “They put out a nice spread, better than how most people make it,” he said, adding that the cranberry sauce and stuffing are his favorite.

Although Maldonado says he doesn’t struggle with some of the issues that others who come to the event have, he says he wants to show them that they are just as a part of the community as he is.

“I’m not homeless, but I come here to support them, and show them that we’re all one big family,” he said.

Alexander MacDougall can be reached at amacdougall@gazettenet.com.