The three grade-school girls wrestled with bags holding 12-pound turkeys and protruding aluminium roasting pans, their adult-sized Salvation Army volunteer shirts hanging halfway to their knees.
Francesca Collett, 9, her sister Julianna, 10, and friend Samantha Centola, 8, spent Saturday morning dragging the bags across the floor of the Salvation Army South End Corps Community Center lobby, handing them to older volunteers and to the local residents who came for the goods: a turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, carrots, onions, potatoes, and a pumpkin pie — enough to feed a family of five, with leftovers.
“I get to spend time with my friends and giving food to people,” said Samantha, a third-grader from Framingham.
The organization handed out about 2,000 food baskets in Boston on Saturday, up from about 1,200 last year, said Major Ivan K. Rock, general secretary of the Salvation Army’s Massachusetts division.
The increased need for assistance during the holidays mirrors what the organization has seen throughout the year, he said.
This year also marked a green switch in packing the groceries.
In previous years, volunteers put the food in paper or plastic bags that sometimes broke as people carried them home, sending turkeys bouncing and vegetables scattering on the sidewalk. This year, it was all packed into more durable reusable cloth bags.
“We want this to be as positive an experience as we can make it,” said Rock, a 22-year-veteran of the Salvation Army.
Rich Collett, Francesca and Julianna’s father, said he and his wife, Pnina, pry their children away from their weekend activities to help others at least once a year. Francesca missed a soccer game on Saturday, he said, but she didn’t seem to mind.
“They’re at an age where they can understand things overall,” he said. “A lot of time children that age don’t understand how lucky they are, but it will register eventually.”
Tia Cannon, 30, a South End resident who works as an administrative assistant at Bunker Hill Community College, said she started getting her Thanksgiving supplies at the center three years ago through the Salvation Army’s after-school program that two of her three children attend.
“It’s awesome,” she said. “If someone is able to help people that’s not able to do things to help themselves, organizations that reach out and help them are beautiful.”
Cannon said the meal will feed her children, ages 11, 6, and 2. While she cooks, she said, they usually sleep.
“I usually do it during the night, that way I don’t have anyone interrupting,” she said.
Geronimo Euclides, also a South End resident, said he cooks for his two adult children and two grandchildren. He has been getting his turkey at the Salvation Army for seven years, he said.
“It’s good, good,” he said. “Everything is good.”
Volunteers at other groups handed out food across the region. United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley gave away 7,000 meals in five Boston neighborhoods and eight Greater Boston communities on Saturday, the organization’s largest-ever distribution, according to a United Way statement.
On Sunday, volunteers for Community Servings, a Jamaica Plain organization that delivers meals to people with acute illnesses, will pack and label pies for its annual Pie in the Sky fund-raiser in three-hour shifts between noon and 8 p.m. at Leo’s Bakery, 60 Old Colony Ave. in South Boston.
Proceeds from the pies, $25 each, will benefit Community Servings. Those interested in volunteering can go to servings.org or call 617-522-7777.
The Greater Boston Food Bank is seeking volunteers to pack and deliver food during the week at its headquarters, 70 South Bay Ave. in the South End, as well as in suburban distribution centers.
For more information, go to gbfb.org or call 617-427-5200.