For most of us, Thanksgiving is a time for family, friends and over indulgence. The table is overflowing with special dishes and delicacies and second and third helpings are the rule of the day. And that’s not even counting the pies.

But unfortunately, that is not the scene at too many Island dinner tables. For these families, Thanksgiving can be a burden and a disappointment, even a time of shame and sadness. These are parents who most days are grappling with paying bills or buying groceries, who cannot provide three healthy meals a day for their children or themselves.

Like other challenges on this Island of bounty, these scenes and struggles are mostly invisible to the rest of us. Yet 25 per cent of our school kids are on the free or subsidized food program. Hundreds of elders receive food through Meals on Wheels or come to town senior centers for help. Working families and single mothers who have fallen on hard times need assistance, as do those deep in the woods, using their cars or a makeshift tents for housing, even into this season. There are individuals recovering from substance addiction or facing health problems who lack the resources or the access to healthy eating.

These folks aren’t entirely faceless. We know them. We cheer their kids on the soccer field, their father works on the job site alongside us and we give them all a wave at the post office or on the road. What we don’t see and don’t know is that mealtimes for these individuals and families too often underscore their hunger.

Fortunately, there are Island organizations funded by generous donors that sustain essential programs to help the hungry. For example, last Friday 250 holiday baskets were distributed to folks in need of food assistance here on the Island. It meant that more than 700 individuals and their families received the food necessary to prepare a wonderful Thanksgiving meal, thanks to the Family-to-Family Holiday program run by the Vineyard Committee on Hunger. It was a wonder to behold as an army of volunteers prepared bags of food that included milk, eggs, a turkey and fresh vegetables, many from Island farms, to Vineyard homes in need. This annual tradition is made possible by so many who contribute in different ways, and it is repeated at Christmas and Easter.

But what happens after the holidays? Winter brings a new wave of challenges, including seasonal job loss and unsteady or uncertain income. Currently there are more than 30 Island organizations trying to fill the gap from the Boys and Girls Club and Martha’s Vineyard Community Services to Elder Services of Cape Cod and the Island Food Pantry. Island grocers and businesses provide important support. Farms, including Morning Glory and Whippoorwill, open their fields to volunteer gleaners who harvest excess produce and then distribute through Island Grown Initiative’s gleaning program. The Wampanoag Tribe and the Island Clergy Association all play a prominent role. In other words, it takes a village to feed a community.

And yet large gaps remain. Too many people on the Vineyard do not have access to healthy, nutritious food. Many of us have given this a fresh focus, and more than 30 organizational leaders gathered earlier this fall for the first Island Food Equity Summit. Our goal is to coordinate our efforts more effectively and develop a long-range plan to bring food equity to the broader Vineyard community.

In addition to eradicating hunger, there are many long-term benefits to our community as a whole. We can reduce diabetes and heart disease by providing healthy food to those at risk and, over time, reduce health care costs. We can improve the overall health and wellness of our children through access to wholesome foods and regular meals. We can relieve the stress on families struggling to stay here. And we create more jobs when we buy Island-grown foods and local fish and meat. In short, our Island community becomes stronger, healthier and more secure.

So what’s next and what can you do? Buy healthy food products and drop them into the purple Island Food Pantry boxes at every grocery store. Next spring, sign up to be a gleaner and help us harvest and distribute food to the organizations that feed our neighbors. Volunteer to deliver meals and spend a few minutes to chat with those Islanders housebound and lonely. Donate to the Vineyard Committee on Hunger, Island Grown Initiative or any of the important organizations involved in feeding families.

Join us and stay tuned. One out of eight Massachusetts residents seeks help from emergency food networks. And one out of 10 Vineyard families needs help in the winter. We can do better. We can, in fact, become a model for food equity.

Betty Burton is president of the Vineyard Committee on Hunger. Rebecca Haag is executive director of the Island Grown Initiative.