BMC’s Food Pantry a Staple at Thanksgiving Time

Boston Medical Center’s Food Pantry is making sure Boston-area families do not miss out on celebrating Thanksgiving with their loved ones. In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, Food Pantry staff and volunteers prepare “Thanksgiving Bags,” complete with a turkey and all of the trimmings, for more than 930 families struggling with food insecurity. The Food Pantry has been assembling and distributing these bags for nearly two decades, making it as much of a tradition as the holiday itself. Leading the effort is Latchman Hiralall, manager of the Food Pantry. Recently, we sat down with him to discuss what it takes to prepare Thanksgiving Bags and how they impact BMC families.

How did you begin providing Thanksgiving Bags for Food Pantry families?

Our families struggle with food insecurity year-round, but we realized it’s even more so around the holidays—especially Thanksgiving, which revolves around food. They were struggling to afford meals for their families. Eighteen years ago, we started distributing Thanksgiving Bags so families could make Thanksgiving dinner at home. Now, we’re supplying bags to about 940 families. And that number is growing. It means a lot that we can do this for families during the holiday season. It’s easy to take something like Thanksgiving dinner for granted, but our families depend on us and we’re happy we can be there for them.

What goes into preparing Thanksgiving Bags?

It’s a lot of heavy lifting, but at the end of the day it’s so rewarding to help our families. Many volunteers help us fill the bags and hand them out, including volunteers from Citizens Bank. We also partner with the Greater Boston Food Bank—they supply a lot of our food—and we have several generous donors, like Thermo Fisher Scientific and Crothall, both of which donated turkeys. We’re thankful to them. It’s by working together we make this happen for our families.

How would you describe what the Food Pantry means to our patients?

It’s important we do this work in a respectful and dignified way, so families feel comfortable coming back. One thing that struck me was a patient said the Food Pantry was like her second home. That really touched my heart. It means we have such a huge impact on our families’ lives that they can turn to us. As much as they are grateful to us, we are grateful to them.

What does it mean to support families with food both at Thanksgiving time and all year round?

When I started this job, I didn’t realize hunger was such a huge problem and that the need for food was so great. But BMC has considered food as medicine for a long time—it’s part of our mission. The Food Pantry works hand in hand with clinical care. We are currently providing food to 7,000 people each month. We distribute close to a million pounds of food each year from this pantry, 50 percent of which are perishable items. Perishable items tend to not be affordable for our families and we’re able to provide them, free of charge, so they can have healthy food in their diets.

It also means a lot to help other hospitals start up food pantries as well because hunger is not just a Boston problem, it’s a universal problem. We’ve done a tremendous job here at BMC to address hunger. I’m very happy that we are able to collaborate with so many supporters to address something as basic as food.