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Lynn community steps up to provide free turkeys to families for Thanksgiving

Lynn resident Michael Quintana gives away turkeys on Monday afternoon at the Boys and Girls Club for the eighth consecutive year. (Olivia Falcigno)

LYNN — Several local organizations and residents stepped up Monday to provide turkeys for Lynn families this Thanksgiving. 

R.F. O’Sullivan’s, Stop & Shop and Lynn resident Michael Quintana all supplied local families with free turkeys, efforts that were aimed at giving needy families a chance to enjoy a traditional holiday meal with their loved ones. 

People started lining up Monday outside R.F. O’Sullivan’s as early as 7:30 a.m., though distribution of the birds didn’t begin until 11 that morning, said owner Richard Sullivan. 

The downtown restaurant had promised to hand out 100 free turkeys on a first come, first served basis, but the turnout was so large that Sullivan ended up buying 20 more to give away, he said. 

Only 19 minutes had passed by the time all of the turkeys were gone, Sullivan said. 

“This is our first year doing it,” said Sullivan. “I didn’t think it would be this fast. It was an unbelievable turnout.” 

Sullivan said the restaurant decided to give out turkeys this year as a way to give back to the city of Lynn, particularly those in need. 

“We just saw people from all over Lynn and whatever their circumstances were, it doesn’t really matter to me,” said Sullivan. “It was just good to see people getting something and smiling instead of the COVID. It’s going to be the first of many because we’re happy that people are happy.” 

Lynn’s Stop & Shop is donating 200 turkeys and the fixings needed for a traditional Thanksgiving meal to families of students who attend Washington S.T.E.M. Elementary School, which has a food pantry partnership with the supermarket. 

Almost 100 of the 200 families that will receive Thanksgiving meals in exchange for a voucher they received from the school picked up their turkeys and sides Monday from the supermarket. The remaining families are able to come on Tuesday to receive their items, according to Maria Fruci, community relations manager for Stop & Shop. 

“This donation is part of our annual Turkey Express initiative,” said Fruci. “With our Turkey Express initiative, we donate turkeys to various community panthers to help our neighbors in need. This year, in total, we donated 22,000 turkeys across our five states.” 

Stop & Shop’s Turkey Express program, which started more than a decade ago, is aimed at helping elementary school families affected by food insecurity across Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey.

Washington S.T.E.M. families are receiving $50 worth of food from Stop & Shop, including a turkey, instant mashed potatoes, corn, peas, stuffing, gravy and cranberry sauce. While it’s the first year the school is benefitting from the program, the grocery store has already donated more than $20,000 to Washington S.T.E.M.’s food pantry this year. 

“More and more people in our communities are facing food insecurity, especially now with the COVID impact,” said Fruci. “Our Turkey Express is our initiative to provide a turkey so our neighbors in need can enjoy a Thanksgiving with their loved ones. 

“Through our partnership with Washington S.T.E.M. and our food pantry partnership, they were sharing with us how their need is so significant this year, (which is) why we expanded to including them with our turkey initiative this year as well,” she said. 

Washington S.T.E.M. Principal Anthony Frye said the food-pantry partnership started at the school last year, but was shut down last March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the school’s main goals this fall was to restart the food pantry to address food insecurity in the community. 

“When I first started four years ago, one of the things I wanted to do was build a community school, which means that kids wouldn’t have the obstacles in front of them to get an education,” said Frye. “We want to limit the obstacles for kids getting an education and food is a part of that.”  

The food pantry was held at the school last Thursday and Friday, where families were also provided with the vouchers they could exchange at Stop & Stop for Thanksgiving groceries, Frye said. 

Monday’s distribution at Stop & Shop was a “win-win” for everyone involved, said Frye, citing the foot traffic that was brought into the store while addressing the huge need that the school’s families have right now around food access. 

“They had a turkey drive going and we said ‘please’ and ‘thank you,'” said Frye. “We thought it would be a good time, especially with people staying home to eat.” 

Quintana, 32, has spent the past several days dropping off turkeys at local organizations and individual households. It’s his eighth year providing free turkeys to the Lynn community, an effort that grew from donating 12 turkeys the first year to more than 250 this year. 

He dropped off 20 turkeys at the Gregg Neighborhood House last Friday, and he donated 85 and 100 to the Boys & Girls Club of Lynn and Lynn YMCA, respectively, Monday. He then proceeded to distribute some to local families, Quintana said. 

Quintana largely funds the donation effort himself. In an average year, he usually spends $4,000 to $5,000, but since he was able to network and secure donations from local organizations and people this year, he was able to decrease his spending to $2,000, he said. 

“At first, it was just to give back to the less fortunate families,” said Quintana. “I had a lot of assistance growing up and I had a lot of support from strangers. They were really superheroes in the community. I figured if I was ever in a position to give back, I would. I’m happy I’m able to give back and I’m blessed to be in this position.”

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