Editors, Vineyard Gazette:

Last Friday we had the annual Family to Family Thanksgiving meal distribution at the First Baptist Church in Vineyard Haven.

What a way to get ready for Thanksgiving: Fill a church parish house with 195 turkeys, 5,000 pounds of fresh produce including fresh pie pumpkins, bok choy and fresh herbs. Add 23 volunteers and lots of new tote bags from Mass in Motion. Show the volunteers how to fill a tote with the food, and then say go. Immediately you’ve got 23 people stuffing bags as fast as they can and arranging them all in a room that seems much too tiny to handle them. It’s like a human ant hill. It looks chaotic but is remarkably orderly.

Then we opened the doors to the people waiting outside. 195 people came through the doors in two and a half hours, collecting food for them and their families. Such looks of gratitude from both the recipients and the volunteers. Sometimes family members would stop and look you right in the eye and say: “Thank you, you have made our holiday celebration possible.”

And we would respond: “You are welcome from the caring members of our community. Islanders from everywhere made this possible.”

When 4 p.m. rolled around we were exhausted but it was a wonderful exhaustion. There is something about being able to share the Island’s abundance with those who are in need at the moment.

Here’s a list of some of the Island people who helped out: Morning Glory Farm and Whippoorwill Farm donated Island-grown butternut squash, carrots, sweet pie pumpkins, kohlrabi, bok choy and herbs. The Island Grown Gleaners picked and delivered all of the produce. Bob and Donna Pacheco, owners of Reliable Market in Oak Bluffs, worked hard to get us the best possible deals for our turkeys and fresh produce. Volunteers from all over the Island helped distribute the food. And of course, the First Baptist Church very generously provided the space.

The nutrition-educational group Mass in Motion was there with warm butternut squash soup and oatmeal rolls for people to sample while they waited in line. They gave recipe cards to anyone who wanted one.

And of course, the whole distribution was made possible by the financial support of Islanders from all six towns.

Several volunteers told me how well-organized the distribution seemed this year, how it went like clockwork. And it did. This is the 24th time we’ve given out holiday meals; we have it down! People love volunteering because it is fun. You feel like you are actually doing something to help. Many of the volunteers have been doing Family to Family for years, but there were also many for whom Friday was a first. A few of them approached me at the end of the day and said, something like: “I had no idea, I just had no idea we had such need here on the Island. I’ll be back to help at Christmas.”

At the end of the day, our pantry was empty. And I mean empty. There are five boxes of oatmeal left. The last time it was this empty was when we moved everything out to paint it. And then we filled it with food again.

We have never had so many people go through the lines and have never gone through so much food. It felt good but was a bit scary. We have to reload quickly, because we’ll do it all over again at Christmas.

Anyway, this is not an advertisement but a status report and a thank you.

On behalf of the Vineyard Committee on Hunger and the Family to Family program, I thank all the people of Martha’s Vineyard who make this program possible.

One family sharing with another family is a wonderful way to spend a Vineyard Thanksgiving.

Betty Burton, Vineyard Haven

Donations to the Family to Family program may be sent to P.O. Box 2641, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568.