Holiday puts focus on year-round problem

As the neighborhood celebrates Thanksgiving, hundreds may be wondering if they will get one helping of turkey, forget about seconds. Every year, Turkey Day presents the people of Boston with the truth of hunger in our midst.

This year will be no different for those faced with skyrocketing fuel cost, health care bills, and costs of living. Dot is full of food pantries and shelters that provide food and services in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, but even they need help.

Federated Dorchester Neighborhood Services operates two food pantries at the Log School on Bowdoin Street and the Little House on East Cottage Street. On Monday, with the help of The Massachusetts Convention Center Authority (MCCA) and food service provider ARAMARK, the Log School gave away 150 turkeys, despite being closed for renovations. Later on Monday the Little School gave away 188 birds, courtesy of the Greater Boston Food Bank.

"We are delighted to be able to provide these dinners to our non-profit neighbors of Dorchester so that no one is hungry on Thanksgiving," James E. Rooney, Executive Director of the MCCA, said in a statement.

Since the Log School is currently closed they will not be able to host a Thanksgiving Day event, but the Little School will operate all week, said Bob McNeil of FDNH.

"We are desperate for volunteers at the Little House," McNeil said. He urged people to contact him at 617-282-2180 if they are looking to help out.

The Pine Street Inn said it will serve over 1,500 meals throughout the city this Thanksgiving, including a dinner at the Holy Family shelter on Lingard Street. Holy Family is a transitional shelter, said Alicia Ianiere, explaining it was closed to the public, but Pine Street will be more than ready for the city's people.

"People can come to dinner about 11:30 and it certainly is open to anyone," she said.

Mayor Menino will be at the shelter at 10 a.m. to carve the first of 65 turkeys to be served.

The city of Boston last year collected 107,599 pounds of food in its Can Share program, which translated to 82,768 meals. This year they are looking to repeat that success and are asking for donations.

The Greater Boston Food Bank, which funds and provides 75 different pantries in Dorchester, received 7,000 poultries from The Stop & Shop Supermarket Co., its largest donation in history, and another 6,700 from Turkeys For America. Their goal for this year was to provide 36,000 turkeys to the city, and they have surpassed that by over 2,000 birds.

Stephanie Nichols said that people don't realize that one-fourth of their clients are employed. The hunger problem, she notes, does not confine itself to the homeless.

"It's an unbridgeable gap," Nichols said of what minimum wage pays - $15,000 a year - and what the cost of living is for a family of three - $58,000. "You can't make ends meet on that. People are stretched beyond what they can realistically make up for."

Some of the GBFB's outlets have experienced increased demand as high as 30 percent this year, and are facing soaring food prices - such as the 20 percent increase in milk costs - still they serve over 83,000 meals a week. Nichols said help is always needed, especially as they prepare meals, and asked volunteers to check out to find out. Anyone in need can call 1-800-645-8333, a hotline that will lead you to the closest emergency shelter.

Other food pantries in the neighborhood can be found at Catholic Charities' Yawkey Center on Columbia Road, The Neponset Health Center on Neponset Avenue, The Codman Square Health Center on Washington Street, Dorchester House in Fields Corner, and ABCD's Dorchester Neighborhood Service Center on Claybourne Street, to name just a few. Please contact any of these organizations to find out how to help. People can also contact the City's Emergency Shelter Commission at 617-635-4507.