United South End Settlements (USES) has never really been in the food distribution business, but COVID-19 has ripped apart the mission statement of about every human services organization, and this week USES has embraced that new mission in providing Thanksgiving dinners to more than 100 families in the neighborhood.
“We’re really committed to serving the whole family,” said Melody Valdes, USES program manager. “We never been in the business of food, but we realized we needed to be in the business of food because our families need it. Our programs have become more of what our families need right now. We listen to them and respond to what they need now.”
Said USES Director Maicharia Weir-Lytle, “We don’t think of ourselves being in the food business, but we do provide breakfast, lunch and snack every day. That was no longer available when we closed our programs for COVID-19, but we heard from families it was a clear need. Everything has shifted. Everything we once thought about ourselves has changed.”
That change has come no more so than with the Thanksgiving meal, and USES has expanded their weekly food distribution – which has been ongoing during the pandemic – to include a turkey and a box of Thanksgiving “fixin’s.”
“We wanted to make sure to provide this to families so they could have a nice, home-cooked meal without having to worry about not being able to provide that meal during these difficult times.”
On Monday, more than 100 families in the South End and surrounding neighborhoods were delivered or picked up their Thanksgiving boxes. That was not as easy as in the past, Valdes said, because the need is so great this year and many of the resources they used to get donations from were not available. Using some community members and other partners, they were able to fill that entire need though, Valdes said.
At Rutland Street, USES runs a no-contact food distribution system, and that is also how the Thanksgiving distribution went. However, for those that couldn’t get to the Rutland Street, there is a network of volunteers that make the deliveries every week, including Monday’s Thanksgiving delivery.
Tim and Kate Chanoux are two of those volunteers, who brought their young daughter with them as they traversed the map they’ve been using since September to deliver food.
The family lives in the South End near USES, and their daughter attends the Early Childhood program there. They said they chose USES for their daughter because it was so ingrained in the community, and they wanted to have more of a connection to the wider community rather than just a center to drop off their kids.
“We wanted to be part of the program to be more connected to the community and to serve the community,” Tim said.
Since September, that idea of serving has meant delivering the food staples to USES families and other partners in the area. Now, with Thanksgiving, it is an even more poignant delivery, Kate said.
“This year is a tough year, but there are a lot of people for whom it is tough every year,” she said. “This year is a little more special though. We wanted to help out and get people the things they need to hopefully have a great day on Thanksgiving. We feel very fortunate we’re in a position where we don’t need this service right now, but we’re in a position to get it to people that do need it, and that’s a great thing.”
Tim said their route is pretty much the same each week, so they see a lot of familiar faces along the way. Being able to arrive with a Thanksgiving turkey and other staples will be a little extra twist to the usual route.
Meanwhile, Valdes said they are announcing their ‘Give a Box’ campaign for funding boxes of food after Thanksgiving. To date, they have handed out 4,000 boxes in the 10 weeks the food program has operated. Now, they want to fund another 6,000 boxes. To do so, they’re hoping the neighborhood can help out, and at $22 a box, it’s something that many can help out with.
“We serve more than 200 boxes a week to our families and our other partners, like IBA and others,” she said. “This campaign is really to engage our neighbors. People can participate for as little as $22 and know they are providing a family with a nutritious meal.”
To donate, go to uses.org/giveabox.