By Chris Maza
LONGMEADOW – In a corner of the maze-like basement of the Longmeadow Big Y, Judy Yaffe stands among pallets piled with hundreds of pounds of food, a spreadsheet in her hand adorned with hand-scribbled notes in various colors of ink.
She’s engaged in a labor of love, one that a family member began years ago.
One that ensured a bountiful Thanksgiving table for more than 1,000 people in the area.
Each of those pallets was loaded into all manner of vehicles from trucks to sedans filled to the brim, each headed to different organizations across Western Massachusetts that help those facing food insecurity during the holiday season.
“How great is that to be able to load your car with food going to someone who needs it?” Yaffe said, surrounded by turkeys, rolls, potatoes and vegetables. “We’re lucky because we can afford it and a lot of families can’t.
Daydie’s Thanksgiving Fund, named in honor of Yaffe’s cousin Daydie Hochberg, supports the work of Yaffe, the Rachel’s Table’s team and a cadre of volunteers who spent the better part of a week purchasing, organizing and delivering Thanksgiving meals of turkey and all the fixings. Hochberg started the initiative 13 years ago on her 70th birthday and kept it going until her passing 10 years ago.
“Family and friends have kept it going and we’ve actually expanded it each year to serve more families in the community,” Yaffe said. “It’s become an extended family affair.”
Beyond the food itself, Daydie’s Thanksgiving Fund offers families something far more important, according to Yaffe.
“You know what’s important about Thanksgiving to me? It’s a non-sectarian holiday that everyone can enjoy,” Yaffe said. “It’s a time for family and friends to get together. It’s traditions. It’s new people coming into a family and making new memories. You can be Muslim, you can be Hindu, you can be anything you want to be. It’s an American tradition we can all be a part of and it’s important for families to be able to enjoy that.”
Rachel’s Table Assistant Director Sarah Maniaci added, “This time of year, it’s about basic human dignity. It’s a time when families come together so if Rachel’s Table can help make it a little bit easier for people to be able to spend that time with the family and not have to worry about the celebratory food that can go on the table, I think it helps people’s self esteem and makes them feel good.”
She added, “Food is love and when you provide a full table like this, that’s love. So when people who really struggle everyday with food insecurity, to have that time together and not have to worry, I think it makes things a little bit easier.
Yaffe explained the fundraising efforts that support the program have called members of the public to donate in increments of $25, which she said is the estimated cost to feed a family of four. Having a set number, she reasoned, has helped the public visualize exactly what their donation pays for. She also credited Big Y with being a valuable partner in the project.
While the growth has been encouraging, Yaffe said she hopes it is just the beginning.
“We could use tons more money,” she said. “This is a drop in the bucket. If we have 300 turkeys or 400 turkeys, it’ll feed probably over 1,000 people, but that’s nothing in this community.”
Maniaci stressed that while holiday giving is always appreciated, the need doesn’t end there and, in fact, many pantries are close to bare during non-holiday months.
“This is the time of year when people really focus on it because Thanksgiving is all about food but for a lot of neighbors, they face this year-round,” she said. “They face decisions between fuel, having heat and having food. While this is something that’s kind of right in our faces right now, a really tough time for people is actually January because there’s so much focus around the holidays.”
She added that summer is another hard time because children are out of school and not able to take advantage of breakfast and lunch programs that might be offered in their communities.
Rachel’s Table is a project of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts. For more information on Rachel’s Table programs, visit https://rachelstablespringfield.org.