Islanders give thanks by helping others in need

Morning Glory Farm bounty ready to be packed up. — Photo by Jack Shea

Rob Nevin will happily spend this Thanksgiving in a homeless shelter in Boston.

The Edgartown resident will join a cadre of volunteers serving dinner to people in need at The Pine Street Inn in Boston’s gritty South End. Although the annual Thanksgiving Day dinner has become a marquee event for the city’s glitterati, Mr. Nevin is going because he knows the folks who’ll be eating turkey and fixin’s are not media darlings. They need the meal.

In a conversation last week, he said he would rather help people than spend another Thanksgiving sitting on his butt watching football.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Why? Just a nice way to help other people. I am so busy with life, I never had the chance before but this year I do,” he said. “And it’s a good way to get outside your own issues — by helping people who have bigger problems, often not of their own making. Look, it’s not totally unselfish, I’m sure I’ll get a lot from this. I’ll just be open to what happens, maybe talk to a few people. I’m not trying to save the world, just help a few people.”

Mr. Nevin said he has five children and would like to get them involved in helping others during the holidays. “Learning to receive by giving is a good life lesson,” he said.

Last Wednesday afternoon in Vineyard Haven, at 1 pm, a line of several dozen people, including seniors and families with babies in arms, curved down from the door of the First Baptist Church parish center on William Street and up the block, nearly to Spring Street.

Inside the parish hall, Betty Burton and a band of experienced volunteers were arranging the nearly 7,000 pounds of turkeys, vegetables, and condiments, that they would give to about 170 Island families for Thanksgiving dinner as part of the “Family to Family” project.

Each family basket included a turkey, stuffing, five pounds of potatoes, two pounds of onions, a pound of carrots, three pounds of apples, three pounds of oranges, fresh butternut squash, a dozen eggs, cranberry sauce and canned pumpkin.

“We’ve been doing this since — I don’t know — 1994,” Ms. Burton said. “We used to need about forty turkeys, but in recent years, the number has grown to one hundred seventy. We’ve really had to step up our efforts to get contributions.”

In fact, analysis of numbers compiled by the Island Food Pantry, food stamp use and the records of other helping organizations, such as Ms. Burton’s Serving Hands food distribution organization, indicate that six or seven percent of Island residents, more than 1,000 people, need help filling the pantry in the current economic climate.

“The Island has shown up to help. Much of the food comes from the Food Bank in Boston. The town of Tisbury donates a truck to transport it, the Steamship Authority provides passage on the ferry, and Island food providers — Cronig’s, Reliable, Stop and Shop — have been terrific.

“Here, come over here. Look at these vegetables Morning Glory Farm sent us,” she commanded, moving to a table heaped with fresh produce. “Look at the size of these suckers,” she exclaimed, wielding a football-sized turnip.

In hard times, the idea of a great Thanksgiving meal seems to have more importance. Ms. Burton and the Family to Family volunteers are focused on providing a bounteous meal for their fellow Islanders.

Helping is a widespread goal

It is a goal many share across the Island during the Thanksgiving holiday. The recovery community will celebrate Thanksgiving with an all-day Alkathon-cum-turkey at the Trinity United Methodist Church parish hall in Oak Bluffs, for example.

Last week at the V.F.W. Hall in Oak Bluffs, Island chef Brian Dube was busy calculating how many turkeys he’ll need to feed up to 100 Island residents and veterans. “Last year, I cooked 23 turkeys and vegetables. We generally have around 100 or so for dinner, beginning around 1 pm or as soon as I get it done,” he said.

Mr. Dube, who is 23 years old, has been preparing the VFW feasts for six or seven years. “I guess I started when I was 15 or 16. I was always around here. My grandfather and stepfather were post commanders, so I guess that’s how it started. It’s growing,” he said.

“It works by donation. A buck or 20 bucks, whatever you’ve got. We get a good deal from Cash ‘n Carry, Reliable, and Stop and Shop. This was a good year for donations, I figure people understood the economy was tough and stepped up donations. More members are coming to the dinner rather than cooking at home, and they contributed a lot,” he said.

At Windemere

Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional Hospital celebrated the breaking of bread tradition a week early, on Wednesday, with a “Family Harvest Dinner.”

“This year the dinner brought 160 residents and their families together for turkey and roast beef, butternut squash pasta, veggies, and apple crisp with ice cream,” Betsy Burmeister, recreational therapy director, said.

“It’s very festive. Morning Glory Farm donated pumpkins and Indian corn, the Eden Garden Center donated cornstalks and ornamental cabbages. Mark Lovewell went room to room singing his songs and sea chanties,” she said.

“This is our second year. We had 74 residents and 40 families for dinner. Some families had six or eight members here, one family had 12 people come. The residents love having them come. Sometimes it is difficult to take people home, particularly for off-Island families, so for residents to have people come to their home, where the residents sit at the head of table and enjoy the meal together, means a lot to them. People who aren’t always smiling were shining last night,” she said.

Earlier, at the First Baptist Church in Vineyard Haven, Jenny Seward of Vineyard Haven, looked up from stacking bags for the Family to Family food distribution, cocking her head quizzically at a question.

“Why do we do this? Because it’s good to help people. It feels good to help people,” she said.