AMHERST — Bringing to his table a plate full of Thanksgiving staples like turkey, potato, stuffing and squash, Sunderland’s Mateo Rull made sure to sample the tamales that were served.
“This is a very pleasant surprise,” Rull said as he sat in the Amherst Survival Center dining room Wednesday afternoon. “We are from Mexico, so it feels good to have some Mexican food today.”
Shortly after, he tried a tamale. “They’re amazing,” Rull said.
Rull was among dozens of guests who attended the center’s annual Thanksgiving dinner, which this year was titled “Celebrating Native American Heritage and Giving Thanks for Our Community.” It was also a return to a more traditional setting for the first time since 2019, with guests lining up to have their food served and then enjoying it in the dining room or in side rooms of the building, complete with tablecloths, centerpieces and candles. and decorations in the oranges and browns of autumn.
While a takeout option remained in the parking lot as well as outdoor dining, many seemed to appreciate being able to have the camaraderie of friends and family they once had when the meal was held at Immanuel Lutheran Church for many years.
“I think it’s nice to have this scholarship,” said Alice Garey, a Greenfield resident sitting at a table with her sister, Margaret Wright of Amherst, who was celebrating her 85th birthday, and her daughter, Cindy Phillips, also of Greenfield.
“This is nice. I don’t have any dishes to wash,” said Phillips, who brought a birthday cake for his aunt.
“I’m so impressed, so grateful,” Phillips said after finishing her meal.
Wright said she came last year and the Survival Center meal ended up being the only turkey she had for Thanksgiving, since her son is a vegetarian. Wright said the food was “delicious.”
Traditional Thanksgiving side dishes were complemented by a handful of indigenous dishes prepared under the direction of Philip Avila, the center’s community meals coordinator.
They included the three sisters succotash, with lima beans, corn, and squash, which he says is a fairly typical indigenous Navajo recipe, wojapi sauce, a simple Native American berry sauce, and a salad with maple cranberry vinaigrette. , sunflower seeds, corn, and winter greens, inspired by Sioux chef Sean Sherman.
After the people settled in, the CEO of the Survival Center, Lev Ben-Ezra, addressed them. “It’s so wonderful to have this event back in our space,” said Ben-Ezra.
He also read out an acknowledgment of land reminding those gathered that Amherst land belonged to the Pocumtuck and Nipmuc tribes.
Today, the center’s walls are lined with portraits of indigenous people, including political and environmental activist Charlotte Black Elk and novelist Sherman Alexie.
Ben-Ezra said the center was set to serve 300 meals and it took weeks of planning, with the food coming from purchases, partnerships with local restaurants and donations, such as several turkeys prepared by Mass Dining. About 40 to 50 volunteers organized the event.
By the end of Wednesday, the center had distributed 381 meals and served 357 people.
While people enjoyed the food, dinner was accompanied by the music of Tim Van Egmond, playing the hammered dulcimer, along with musicians Steve Howland and Deborah Stevens. For a while, too, one of the guests, Army veteran John Szramowski of Amherst, played with them using what he said was his “air bass guitar.”
Eating a slice of apple pie made by teenagers at NorthStar in Sunderland and drinking a hot cup of coffee, Michael Goodman from Northampton said he had been coming to the Survival Center to eat for about 10 months and rode his bike into town to make sure you could celebrate Thanksgiving there too.
“It’s overwhelming in its grandeur,” Goodman said.
James Roche of Amherst, who served in the Marine Corps, said he has been around Thanksgiving meals for 30 years and, like those who applauded the staff and kitchen workers for the job they did, he said who is grateful.
“It’s great,” Roche said. “They’ve been good to me here.”
Scott Merzbach can be reached at [email protected]