Athol Salvation Army makes for happy Thanksgivings

  • Athol Salvation Army volunteer Gary Teele stands ready to move some of the turkeys and boxes of food ready for donation to local families for Thanksgiving. Staff photo/Greg Vine

  • Salvation Army volunteer Doug Blair displays some of the food included in the boxes donated to local families for a holiday dinner. The items will accompany the turkey at the center of the Thanksgiving table. Staff photo/Greg Vine

  • Among those who helped the Athol Salvation Army Corps distribute Thanksgiving dinners to local families were (seated, left to right) Salvation Army Social Ministry caseworker Christine Blair and volunteer Sharon O'Neil. Standing, left to right: Volunteer Doug Blair, Capt. Esther Wilson, volunteer Gary Teele and Major Maria Stephenson of Divisional Headquarters in Canton. Staff photo/Greg Vine

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 11/23/2021 7:07:16 PM
Modified: 11/23/2021 7:07:12 PM

ATHOL — By about 10:45 a.m. Friday, Athol’s Salvation Army Corps had handed out about half the Thanksgiving dinners it had on hand to help local families make their holiday just a little happier. The doors of the Corps headquarters on Ridge Street had opened at 9 a.m., with volunteers scheduled to distribute turkey and fixin’s until 2 p.m.

“I have six volunteers today,” said Wilson, “and I had six volunteers to help me fill the boxes the other day.”

Despite recent reports that food shortages and short supplies were hampering efforts by food pantries to meet the demand for Thanksgiving dinners, Capt. Esther Wilson said such was not the case for the local Salvation Army.

“Not at all,” she said, “because people give us donations — monetary donations — we’re able to go buy it, and we’re able to pick up things from the food bank. The Worcester County Food Bank gave us 58 turkeys and 40 gift cards, so that helps us, too. So, no, we really haven’t had that many issues.”

Wilson said her organization would be distributing close to 100 meals this year.

“We’re giving out 91 meals, but some people are getting more than one box because they have a bigger family,” she explained.

In response to a question from the Athol Daily News, Wilson said all the meals are ‘traditional.’

“All turkeys, and then all hams for Christmas,” she said, adding with a chuckle, “Hams are easier to store.”

Asked if demand was higher this year, Wilson said, “That’s hard to calculate right now. I think so. However, the Salvation Army’s not the only ‘kid in town’ anymore. There are other food pantries now that are stepping up and doing the work of getting our community fed.”

She said that, despite being independent entities, the Salvation Army does sometimes cooperate with other food pantries, like the new operation at Athol High School.

“They’re totally separate. But sometimes we take food to them that we have an overabundance of, and sometimes they call me and let me know they’ve got some things that they’d like to share with us. They’re their own separate entity but they’ve been helping us.”

Wilson said she is seeing more working families in need of help than in years past.

“And we give food out with no questions asked,” she said. “There are no income guidelines right now because people are hurting and we’re here for them.”

Greg Vine can be reached at

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