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Salvation Army Kettles Ring True After Turkey Donation Dropoff Tests Its Mettle in Fitchburg

November 22, 2018

Manuel Ingrassia and Priscilla Marquez leave the Salvation Army pickup center on Main Street in Fitchburg with their basket and turkey on Wednesday morning. The Salvation Army had to scramble as it learned only recently it would not be receiving the more than 300 donated turkeys from local businesses this year to help those in need in Leominster, Fitchburg and Lunenburg. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE/JOHN LOVE Sentinel and Enterprise staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

By Peter Jasinski

pjasinski@sentinel andenterprise.com

FITCHBURG -- Of all the things Lynnette Valentine is thankful for this year, the small miracle that occurred just a few days before Thanksgiving probably ranks as one of the most important.

“We had been caught completely off guard,” the Salvation Army envoy said. “We had just two weeks to go and it was a panic.”

The Salvation Army has been operating in Fitchburg for 135 years and Valentine estimates that it has been giving away Thanksgiving turkeys for the last 60 or 70. It’s an annual tradition many economically disadvantaged people have come to rely on, and it almost didn’t happen this year.

Just a couple weeks before Thanksgiving, Valentine was told her office would not be getting the 326 donated turkeys it normally receives from area businesses, putting the holiday dinners of hundreds of area residents in jeopardy.

“We understand because businesses are cutting back, too. Things are hard for everybody and the funds aren’t there,” she said. “But we did not know what we were going to do. We’d already done all of these applications for the people who needed turkeys.”

Valentine and her staff started putting the word out that the Salvation Army was in need and many answered the call. About 100 birds were donated individually by private citizens, but that still left about 220 that had to come from somewhere. To try and raise the money to buy the turkeys themselves, local Salvation Army staff started their annual red kettle campaign a week earlier.

On a good day, Valentine said a volunteer bell-ringer can collect about $90 in donations so additional volunteers were put out to raise the money before Thanksgiving came.

It ended up only taking one day to raise the $2,100 they needed.

“That was rare,” said Valentine. “That was a blessing because that does not normally happen.”

The turkeys, along with baskets of assorted ingredients, were handed out in Fitchburg on Tuesday and Wednesday. Among the recipients was Fitchburg resident Manuel Ingrassia and his girlfriend, Priscilla Marquez.

Ingrassia said they were bringing the food to his aunt’s house, with whom they are spending Thanksgiving as she recovers from heart surgery.

“This is very important for us,” Ingrassia said of the basket of food he was given. “Especially in times like right now, when money is really tight and our living situation is very tight.”

Salvation Army staff social worker Deborah Andujar said there was a line of people going out the door onto Main Street when baskets were handed out on Tuesday.

Even though they don’t have a place of their own to prepare a turkey, Andujar said many of this year’s recipients are homeless.

“They want to contribute to wherever it is that they’re going. They want to bring something and be a good guest,” she said.

Whereas normally a small handful of businesses help guarantee a happy Thanksgiving to those helped by the Salvation Army, this year’s holiday was made possible by the kindness of hundreds.

For that, Valentine said she is thankful.

“We want to applaud and thank the community,” she said. “That’s what I want to make known. This community is a supportive community.”

Follow Peter Jasinski on Twitter @PeterJasinski53

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