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Boston nonprofits distribute thousands of Thanksgiving meals to those in need

Martine Joseph (left) and Marie Alexia picked up turkeys and grocery packages Saturday at Catholic Charities Yawkey Center.
Martine Joseph (left) and Marie Alexia picked up turkeys and grocery packages Saturday at Catholic Charities Yawkey Center.(Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff)

Volunteers wearing neon-yellow vests unloaded frozen Thanksgiving turkeys from a box truck parked on Columbia Road Saturday morning, stuffed them into reusable blue shopping bags, and carried them for people boarding buses and for others who came in cars.

The volunteers were working for Catholic Charities and United Way, which were among community groups and nonprofit organizations that supplied thousands of local families with fruits, vegetables — and turkeys — on Saturday.

Some organization officials said they were seeing an uptick in need this year, faulting the gap between the rising cost of living in the area and people’s incomes.

“We are serving more people here than ever before,” said Debbie Rambo, president and chief executive of Catholic Charities of Boston. “Our food pantries are busier just in general.”

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The Thanksgiving food drives help people with limited disposable income stretch their budgets, said Rambo.

“For people to have extra food that they don’t have to pay out of pocket for, it goes a long way,” Rambo said. “We’ve seen all of our numbers at all of our food pantries go up.”

Lurena Hood, social services manager for the Salvation Army, said the organization saw “huge increases” Saturday at all five of their turkey drive sites in Boston.

“The increases come from the way the economy is and how expensive food is,” Hood said in a phone interview. “They have to make ends meet.”

Catholic Charities and United Way distributed more than 2,000 meals at Catholic Charities Yawkey Center on Columbia Road Saturday, and more at sites in South Boston, the South End, and Somerville, according to United Way spokeswoman Brigid Boyd.

People started lining up at 4 a.m., Boyd said, ahead of the doors opening at 9 a.m., when volunteers began guiding streams of local residents through a fast-moving queue.

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In the Merrimack Valley, volunteers gave out supermarket vouchers in lieu of turkeys, according to Dahlia Cox, a vice president of engagement for United Way. After gas line explosions erupted across the area in September, scores of residents were left without functioning ovens.

“Families can get what’s appropriate for their situation,” Cox said.

Volunteer E. J. Whelan was dressed for the occasion as he directed traffic.
Volunteer E. J. Whelan was dressed for the occasion as he directed traffic.(Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff)

Cox said about 100 more families requested meals this year in Lawrence, but it was not clear whether that was due to the explosions.

Demand went up across the area, but “the need has always been there,” said Cox, of Lawrence.

Worrell Somers, who lives in Forest Hills, said he goes to the Catholic Charities food pantry on Columbia Road every month.

He is planning a Thanksgiving feast Jamaican style. “I jerk my turkey,” said Somers, who moved from Jamaica 30 years ago. “Jamaican jerk turkey.”

Wyse Richardson, 21, of Dorchester, left the drive Saturday carrying a bag in one hand filled with potatoes, onions, yams, and cranberries, and a frozen turkey in the other.

Richardson said he has been coming to the Catholic Charities and United Way drive since he was a child.

“They put a lot of stuff in the bags,” Richardson said. “It’s been a good help to me and my family throughout the years, and it’s really helpful to the community. Some people can’t afford it.”

Cori Rojas, 25, of Dorchester, said she used to come to the drive with her family, but this year, she was able to buy her own turkey. She still came to the center, but as a volunteer.

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“Everyone can have a great time and enjoy the holidays,” Rojas said. “We’re together as a community as one, helping each other.”

At another drive at the Dewitt Community Center in Roxbury, Cheryl Stillwell, of Dorchester, brought her 1-year-old great-granddaughter Briana to pick up a turkey and a dozen eggs. The Islamic Multi-Service Organization hosted the drive, and turkeys were provided by the Greater Boston Food Bank.

“It helps people who are having a hard time,” Stillwell said while waiting for her turkey. “It definitely has helped me.”

Stillwell plans to cook the turkey for a Thanksgiving family dinner.

“We’ll just stay at home and enjoy each other and pray,” Stillwell said. “That’s about all you can do now.”

Volunteer Fred Plett unpacked turkeys Saturday.
Volunteer Fred Plett unpacked turkeys Saturday.(Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff)

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the name of the Greater Boston Food Bank.


Alana Levene can be reached at alana.levene@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @alanalevene.