“Today, everybody gets a turkey,” Betty Burton, coordinator of the Family to Family holiday distribution program told a group of volunteers working diligently inside the First Baptist Parish house in Vineyard Haven on Friday.
Ms. Burton, who described the two hours before opening the parish doors as “organized chaos,” was in the midst of preparing to distribute more than 13,000 pounds of food. “That’s how it is every year. But we always manage to get things done,” she said.
Starting at 11 am, approximately 40 volunteers of all ages began organizing boxes filled with food, cutting up fresh veggies, and packaging individual meals, turkey and all, for people to take home.
Around 1 pm, despite the rain and bad weather, the first people began to filter through the parish house doors. Each walked away with a frozen turkey and a bag that contained stuffing mix, eggs, pumpkin pie mix, winter squash, as well as bags of apples, oranges, onions, potatoes, and carrots.
This year, Family to Family donated meals to 215 families comprising 460 individuals, 98 seniors and 120 children, a nearly 14 percent increase from last year.
“Last year we had 190 families, every year it seems to be going up,” Ms. Burton said. She said a large portion of those served are people with disabilities, the elderly and young families.
Much of the food, including bags of potatoes, carrots, onions, eggs, and frozen meat is received from the Boston Food Bank, part of the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program (MEFAP) as well as The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).
Donations are the lifeblood of the organization, Ms. Burton said. Money received throughout the year is used to purchase groceries from Reliable Market in Oak Bluffs at a significant discount. Fresh produce is sourced from Morning Glory Farm and Whippoorwill Farm by a dedicated team of “gleaners,” people who harvest surplus fresh, local vegetables and fruit.
Family to Family, a volunteer-based organization, has been providing healthy holiday meals for nearly a decade and relies completely on community involvement. A Vineyard family or individual can make it possible for a family in need to have all the ingredients for a complete holiday meal by donating to the program.
“What I like most about this program is that one family gives to another family that is in need,” Ms. Burton told The Times. “It is the community taking care of those that are in need at the time. We are all in this together.”
Ms. Burton said that 75 percent of the people who are eligible to receive donations are Food Pantry card carriers or are automatically eligible through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
“This is something that is highly regulated, not just anybody can walk in and get food,” Ms. Burton said. “But I’ve been doing this for 16 years, I know who the families are. Even in the instance where someone doesn’t meet those qualifications, if they have the courage to walk through those doors, that’s good enough for me.”
Many volunteers have worked with Ms. Burton and the holiday distribution program before. For others, this year was a first.
For Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School sophomore Casey McAndrews, this was her first time volunteering. “It’s really hectic, but I like it,” she said. “It’s definitely a different side to the Island that you don’t see every day.”
Casey heard about the opportunity to volunteer from her friend Molly Houghton who volunteered with Family to Family last Christmas.
“It’s a really good thing to do,” Molly said. “I’m happy that I got to do it again today with friends.”
Donations may be made payable to Vineyard Committee on Hunger. The address is Vineyard Committee on Hunger, with the words Family to Family in the check memo field: P.O Box 4685, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568 or visit www.hungercommittee.org for paypal contributions.