Serving Up Smiles and Thanksgiving Dinner at Harvest on Vine

November 23, 2011
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This Thanksgiving, 450 Charlestown families received baskets overflowing with holiday meal staples from St. Mary – St. Catherine of Siena’s Harvest on Vine Food Pantry. Turkeys, stuffing, cranberry sauce, potatoes, pies, bakery rolls, and even tin pans were extended to families so that they could prepare their own holiday meals.

“This is the biggest day of the year for us,” said Tom MacDonald, the church’s director of social ministries. “It’s our biggest effort. It takes a lot of support to pull it off.”

This year marked Harvest on Vine’s Eighth Annual Thanksgiving Dinner Drive, which was held Tuesday, Nov. 22, at St. Catherine’s school hall on Vine Street. Likely due to continued hard economic times, this year’s number of Thanksgiving basket recipients increased from the 375 families served last year.

MacDonald said the dinner drive would not have been possible if it weren’t for generous support from Charlestown community members and businesses. Johnnie’s Foodmaster, the Charlestown Mothers Association and the Greater Boston Food Bank are critical partners and supporters, MacDonald said. Boston Police helped organize the lines, and Spanish and Chinese interpreters were available to help families.

Harvest on Vine, which is run by MacDonald and about 50 volunteers, hosts two meal distributions per month and serves more than 600 families. The food pantry has come a long way since its start in 2003, when it began serving seven families. MacDonald credits the food pantry’s volunteers and the generosity of Charlestown residents with its growth and success.

“Since the beginning, the church felt there was a need to feed the needy in Charlestown,” said MacDonald, who lives in Braintree. “The population we serve lives below the poverty line. They need the help. We want to make our clients feel welcome, making it a warm experience.”

Overseeing social ministry and the food pantry was a career change for MacDonald, who worked in the computer field before joining the church around 2003. Since then, he’s been writing fiction to process the heartache and poverty he sees. His crime novel, “The Charlestown Connection,” was recently published.

“It’s heartwarming to see how much neighbors care about people in Charlestown,” said MacDonald. “It was important to me to change careers and look for something a little more fulfilling, and the community of Charlestown welcomed me with open arms. It feels like home to me.”