HOLLAND — Local agencies were hard at work last week ensuring that everyone who wants to eat a Thanksgiving dinner at home can.
Community Action House, which has traditionally handed out about 1,000 Thanksgiving meal boxes at its 14th Street pantry ahead of the holiday, this year offered anyone who needed it a chance to shop for their Thanksgiving dinner at the organization's new Food Club.
As of Wednesday afternoon, 1,020 households had come to the Food Club to pick up their Thanksgiving shopping, which included whole turkeys and all the ingredients for a traditional Thanksgiving feast.
"It takes the pressure off for a lot of our neighbors," said Scott Rumpsa, Community Action House's executive director. "We were really heartened to see so many people come through."
Community Action House closed its 14th Street pantry this year and now offers most of its services, including benefit navigation, at its Food Club and Opportunity Hub, 739 Paw Paw Drive, Holland. With the food club model, members receive a monthly allotment of points to use at the grocery store, which stocks fresh produce, store cupboard items and frozen food.
Thanksgiving shopping was open to non-members and the Food Club was open for extended hours and additional days leading up to Thanksgiving. Dozens of additional volunteers helped CAH run the Thanksgiving distribution.
About two-thirds of households that benefited from Thanksgiving assistance were already Food Club members. More than 300 were non-members.
"Many of those people did sign up after seeing the space and learning that they qualify," Rumpsa said. "Right now we're adding 25 new Food Club families every day."
Harvest Stand Ministries in Zeeland distributed 161 Thanksgiving boxes to its clients and others in need who were referred to Harvest Stand by Zeeland Public Schools or another agency.
Local churches, including The Foundry, Community Reformed Church, Bethel Christian Reformed Church, North Holland Reformed Church, Grace Fellowship Orthodox Presbyterian Church and Family Church, gathered donations to fill the boxes, which included a frozen turkey, green beans, stuffing and potatoes.
"We had very strong community support from a bunch of the local churches, they really partnered with us well," said Jordan Palladino, Harvest Stand's executive director.
"We're so grateful for the wide-reaching community response and impacts of projects like this, it's so great to see a wide variety of people respond to human need. That's just very life-giving for me to see."
Christian Neighbors of Douglas distributed groceries for Thanksgiving meals Nov. 22 and 23 at locations in Douglas and Pullman, serving 375 families.
About 200 people were also fed Thanksgiving Day by the Community Kitchen at Western Theological Seminary run by Community Action House.
"That's a big new change for this year, being open and serving on Thanksgiving so everyone can have a meal, even if they don't have a kitchen or someone to eat a meal with," Rumpsa said. "It's really great that our volunteers were willing to show up on Thanksgiving Day to prepare that meal and make sure that folks have a special meal on Thanksgiving."
More than 40 volunteers helped prepare and serve the Community Kitchen's holiday meal. About 100 ate together at the seminary Thursday and another 100 took home packaged to-go meals.
Thanksgiving also marked one month since CAH's Food Club opened its doors.
In the first month, the most popular items were fresh vegetables, followed by fresh fruit and frozen meat.
"That is showing the model is working as intended," Rumpsa said, "as we try to offer folks food that they otherwise wouldn't be able to afford or bring home through other supports."
Produce is priced at the lowest point value at the food club to incentivize and make healthy eating more accessible for low-income families.
"We've been really glad that it's been working out as we'd hoped," Rumpsa said of the Food Club's first month in operation. "[...] I've felt incredibly grateful for our community coming around us, and it's been very meaningful to see it in action, to see the place working as it was intended."
This article originally appeared on The Holland Sentinel: Food Club, pantries step in to provide Thanksgiving meals