With Thanksgiving fast approaching, local food pantries are hard at work prepping free turkey dinners for their neighbors in need.
But, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations continue to face challenges — chiefly, this year, a lack of supplies.
“We are quite literally scrambling to get enough food — non-perishable and fresh produce,” said Phoebe Bray, executive director of The Community Kitchen in Keene. “2021 is proving to be more troublesome than 2020 was, food-wise.”
Rather than a sit-down meal, area food pantries offer donated boxes people can use to make their own dinners. The lack of food availability, though, likely will lead to fewer people being served this year or a slimmer box to bring home, according to some local directors.
Nationwide, supply-chain challenges are affecting food banks and pantries alike, numerous media outlets have reported.
“It’s the problem that the supermarkets are running into — the warehouses have food but they don’t have enough delivery drivers,” Bray said in an email. “We usually buy in bulk from Market Basket but they have stated they cannot accommodate that at the moment.”
The Fall Mountain Food Shelf, at 122 Route 12A in Langdon, typically serves between 800 and 900 people with take-home boxes for Thanksgiving, Director Mary Lou Huffling said. But this year, she said the pantry was able to order enough food for just over 500 meals.
A “couple hundred” people have already signed up for a dinner box, Huffling said, which includes a turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, potatoes, carrots and onions.
“We’re just so thankful we can do it at all,” she said.
The boxes will be packed at Cold River Materials — a company in Swanzey that donated its space to the food shelf — on Nov. 19, she added, and available for pickup Nov. 20.
Anyone interested in receiving a box, or in volunteering their time, can contact Huffling directly at 835-2283.
The Community Kitchen at 37 Mechanic St. in Keene offers food boxes filled with all the fixings (or this year, at least a good portion of them), Bray said. The box is in addition to three-days’ worth of food for an entire household, given through the kitchen’s pantry program.
Bray said the kitchen is planning to distribute about 350 boxes, slightly fewer than in previous years. But, it all depends on what food the organization can get.
“We always plan to add everything that everybody would need for a Thanksgiving dinner, which is still the goal,” she said. “But at this point, we’re not sure if we’re going to meet that goal.”
The Community Kitchen’s boxes will be distributed Nov. 17 and 18.
Anyone interested in receiving one can register at the kitchen Mondays through Fridays, Bray said. Income, residency and age must all be verified during the registration process.
The kitchen is also accepting donations — food or money — throughout the holiday season.
In Troy, Helping Hand Center at 1 Depot St. hasn’t been having issues with getting food for its to-go boxes because the organization gets donations directly from the N.H. Food Bank, according to Managing Director Jeanne Drugg.
Bray, of The Community Kitchen, said pantries can get only four cases of an item from the N.H. Food Bank weekly, so the Keene organization must rely on other donations as well to feed all of its clients.
“Even if the cases have 24 items in them that’s not 100 items in total,” she explained in an email, “when we’re serving 250-300 families a week those 4 cases won’t go very far.”
Helping Hand Center serves a much smaller population, with 50 boxes slated to be given out the week before Thanksgiving.
“That’s a little bit more [than usual],” Drugg said.
The boxes will be distributed Nov. 19, 20 and 22, she added.
Anyone wishing to get one can either drop in to the center Mondays, Fridays or Saturdays beforehand or call it at 603-242-3007.
As for free sit-down dinners, the Monadnock Region’s options this year are limited.
The annual Ralph Rines Memorial Dinner has been canceled for the second year due to the pandemic, according to organizer JoAnn Rines Barnes. This would have been the event’s 47th year of gathering the community for a hot meal.
“A lot of our drivers come from out of town and everywhere,” Barnes said, “so we feel it’s just not safe with COVID. But, we’re hoping for next year.”
Barnes’ father, the late Ralph Rines, a former Swanzey police chief, started the tradition she has kept up for nearly five decades.
The meal usually feeds 100 people at the Community Church of West Swanzey, she said previously.
The Keene Assembly of God at 121 Park Ave. typically offers a sit-down meal inside the church on Thanksgiving. However, Pastor James Stemple said a large portion of the congregation is sick — a combination of COVID-19 and other flu-season ailments — so whether the dinner will occur this year is still up in the air.
About 100 people usually come to the meal, which is available to anyone in the community, according to Stemple.
“It all depends on if we have enough help to do it,” he said.
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