📷 Volunteers from the 2017 Tri-Community Church Collaborative Thanksgiving dinner project distribute turkey dinners to families in need. 2018 will be the fourth year that the group provided area families in need with all the ingredients for a Thanksgiving family feast. Photo courtesy Cathy Chernisky
By Sarah Champagne, Managing Editor
SOUTHBRIDGE/STURBRIDGE/CHARLTON: The Tri-Community Church Collaborative is at it again this year. As the holidays approach, the network of several local churches is getting ready to distribute Thanksgiving dinners to their neighbors in need. This is their fourth year of providing the Thanksgiving meals. Volunteers for the organization will be out in force in the next few weeks, stationed at tables outside Big Bunny Market in Southbridge and both Shaw’s Supermarket and Walmart in Sturbridge.
The group, known also as TCCC for short, will provide families in need with all the elements of a Thanksgiving feast to make at home. Each family dinner includes potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, canned vegetables and other food items in a tote bag along with a frozen turkey to make at home. Families or individuals who would like to receive a Thanksgiving dinner kit register ahead of time and then show up at a distribution event to claim the full dinner kit. Cathy Chernisky, an organizer of the event, reports that hundreds of families in need take part in the program to be able to create a Thanksgiving meal at home with loved ones. The churches in the community collaborative and the families receiving holiday dinners are all from Southbridge, Sturbridge and Charlton.
To be able to provide for all of the families that qualify for the program, volunteers for the community group stand out at collection points outside of grocery stores to ask for contributions several weeks before Thanksgiving.
The group realized in the early years of its efforts that turkeys were both bulky and expensive to store, requiring a refrigerated space that might hold enough turkeys to serve each family for the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. This was highly impractical considering the nature of the collection and the short time frame of the effort. To overcome that roadblock, the TCCC found that with the help of Big Bunny Market, they could simply order the appropriate number of turkeys from monetary donations, to be delivered the day of the distribution event.
With that in mind, the group focused on the other elements of a Thanksgiving dinner at their grocery store collection sites: potatoes, vegetable sides, stuffing, cranberry sauce and even dessert items such as pies and cookies. People entering the store could easily pick up some of these items and donate on the way out. Still, there was the possibility that some items would be donated more than others, leaving some parts of the Thanksgiving dinner kits in low supply. For example, it seemed that people loved to donate pie fillings, crusts, brownie mixes and other dessert items and that these items showed up in abundance in the collection at the expense of the side dishes for the meals.
To create a more balanced collection and to communicate to generous donors what items were really needed, the group created a small shopping list of items that they could hand to people who were entering the stores. The small shopping list helped to keep the donated items balanced to fill all of the requests.
Any item or group of items on the list was welcome, of course. However, the small shopping list helped donors to narrow down their search while shopping for their own household. It also helped the community group to receive a more well-rounded supply of food items for the Thanksgiving dinner kits. Many families donate all of the items on the list, helped by the convenience of knowing which items are really needed.
Chernisky reports that from the first year, the collection and distribution efforts have gone smoothly, even with the necessary problem-solving and adjustment that can be a part of carrying out any new project or plan.
“I’ve never seen something like this go so smoothly. You know that is God’s hand,” says Chernisky, who was inspired to take on the project in 2015 as an expression of her Christian faith and a chance to help others in need.
The group has organized the Thanksgiving meal initiative since 2015. Before that time, Southbridge Food Share had a similar program, which that group was unable to continue. When Chernisky learned that the Food Share would not have the resources to distribute Thanksgiving meals for the 2015 holiday season, she began to think about the loss that families in need might experience. Chernisky was required to rest for a hip ailment at the time. She had begun feeling better though and she was getting bored with the rest. Thanksgiving dinners for local families and individuals in need seemed like a project that she might take on. She considered the idea for a period of time, discussed it with her husband Bob Chernisky, and then prayed about the idea of taking on the project.
Armed with faith and determination and after much consideration, she decided to launch the project. Volunteers from her own church as well as several other churches in Southbridge, Sturbridge and Charlton begun the process of gathering donations, scheduling events and creating a system to deliver Thanksgiving to neighbors in need.
The first year of the effort was successful, with distribution at the former Southbridge High School on Cole Avenue. Families and individuals who had signed up for the service lined up to receive a bag of “fixings” and dry goods and then moved on to visit a refrigerated truck which held a turkey for each family signed up in the program. That year, Cherinsky reports that the program served about to 400 Thanksgiving meal kits to those in need.
The distribution has been done in the last few years at 45 Charlton Street in a house owned by House of Destiny Ministries, one of the participating churches. Sign-ups for the program also happen at that same location.
Volunteers are needed for the days when the group stands outside area stores to ask for donations. This is one of the key parts of the effort, and the food gathered at these “standouts” is essential to the program, Chernisky says. There is enough generosity at these events to create more than one vehicle full of the in-kind food donations.
“We do pick-ups every two hours on those days, and we fill the vehicle each time,” Chernisky says of the collection days.
The Tri-Community Church Collaborative will be asking for donations at the following locations and times:
Walmart Sturbridge: Saturday, Nov. 10 & Monday, Nov. 12, from noon to 4 p.m.
Shaw’s Supermarket: Saturday, Oct. 27, & Saturday, Nov. 3, from noon to 4 p.m.
Big Bunny Market: Saturday, Oct. 27 & Saturday, Nov. 3, from noon to 4 p.m.
To apply for a Thanksgiving meal kit, families or individuals should come to 45 Charlton Street in Southbridge, otherwise known as the M. Pauline Outreach Center for House of Destiny Ministries. The building appears to be a “triple-decker” or private residence, but a sign outside will show that it is the M. Pauline Outreach Center. Families or individuals can arrive at that location to sign up for a turkey dinner Thursday, Oct. 25, from 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. or Saturday, Nov. 3, from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Registration requires a photo identification, and a piece of mail with name and address matching the photo identification. The Tri-Community Church Collaborative makes efforts to not duplicate the generosity of other groups so that everyone in need has a chance to receive a Thanksgiving meal.
Distribution for the Thanksgiving meals happens the Saturday before Thanksgiving, which is Saturday, Nov. 17, this year. Once a family or individual register for a meal kit, they will receive notice of the hours of distribution at the M. Pauline Outreach Center.
To volunteer for a collection day or to make a donation outside of the times the group will be at stores, contact Cathy Chernisky at (774) 764-7864 or through email at email@example.com.