'We have to make sure people are not hungry.' United Way donates 800 meals – MetroWest Daily News

FRAMINGHAM — November’s frost didn’t hinder the warmth of giving in the parking lot of Pearl Street Cupboard & Café, where the United Way of Tri-County donated cartloads of Thanksgiving meals to people in need on Tuesday morning.  
Joe Mina, program director at the United Way, greeted drivers with a smile and collected vouchers from a line of cars that wrapped around the building.  
“My family has been a nonprofit for a long time, and I’ve been doing this for 10 years now — helping people I care about,” said Mina. “We have to make sure that people are not hungry this Thanksgiving.”  
Pearl Street Cupboard & Café, on Park Street, is the largest of the three food pantries run by the United Way in the 495/MetroWest corridor. In addition, the organization runs two hot meal programs, handing out 3 million pounds of food annually, according to their website.  
This was the 12th Thanksgiving event run by the local United Way branch, and the second time that donations were delivered via drive-through, according to Mina.  
On Tuesday, 800 households lined up in cars to have their trunks filled with a 10- to 16-pound turkey, a Table Talk Pie, butter, cheese, canned yams, canned sweet potatoes, canned sweet peas, canned carrots, canned corn, stuffing, cabbage and apples. 
That amounted to about 250,000 pounds of food that will support families before Thanksgiving, said Mina.  
“Between today and tomorrow (Wednesday), we’ll probably have about 800 to 900 turkeys out, because stragglers come in the next day as well,” said Mina. “We also have 200 people on the waitlist.”  
Alongside him, 35 employees and volunteers rushed to fill carts with food and load them onto incoming cars. Due to COVID-19 measures, the number of helpers was reduced from the usual 80, but the efforts remained valiant.  
Even though he lives in Worcester, Justin Miranda made the 35-minute drive to the Café parking lot to do something he loves.  
“I love giving back to the community,” said Miranda, who served in the Army Reserve for about six years. “There are a lot of hungry people who need someone to give them a helping hand and I’m glad to be part of that initiative.”  
With her head peeking over the handles of carts, 10-year-old Bella Bray tirelessly helped all morning at the Café alongside her 12-year-old sister, C.J., who believes that whatever one puts out in the world, will eventually come back to them.  
Their mother, Jen, who has worked at the United Way for the past two months, and for more than 20 years at nonprofits, decided Tuesday was a good day for Bella and C.J. to learn a precious lesson. 
“I pulled them out of school so that they could come and do something for other people because I think it’s really important that they see how many families need food, and they’re very lucky that they are not in this position,” said Jen, who lives in Holliston.  
Paul Mina, executive director of the United Way of Tri-County, calls the work “a labor of love,” but at the same time points to an underlying issue regarding hunger and financial struggle in the communities his organization serves.  
“We used to have just people that were like, disabled, handicapped, or substance abusers — the chronically in need,” said Mina, who has been with the United Way for 35 years. « But over the last several years, we’ve had a lot needier numbers of people because there are folks with industry jobs that don’t pay like they used to and with mostly no benefits, and that puts families in a pickle.” 
And with COVID-19, Mina believes this problem has been exacerbated, and families from 45 communities, coming as far away as Springfield, trickle down for the United Way’s services.  
“Between now and Christmas, we distribute all of the beautiful generosity that we get and collect for food,” said Mina. “We put all that together and we try to make sure that everybody has what they need for Christmas as well.” 
Framingham Mayor Yvonne Spicer joined the volunteers, packing food in the back of cars on Tuesday. She said she enjoys helping the community in any way possible.  
“Hunger is a real issue in not only our community but around the world, and if we can do anything to alleviate it, then I think that’s the most wonderful thing,” said Spicer. “I’m going to do today whatever is asked of me (because) the meaning of this time of year is about helping one another.” 
Most of those who stopped by with a voucher shied away from speaking about the food drive. One woman, who simply gave her name as Sandra, said she had driven from Milford to receive help.  
“There are a lot of families that really need this,” she said. “That they’re doing this, it means a lot to me and I’m very thankful for this help.”  

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