PEPPPERELL -- As Thanksgiving approaches, Pepperell Aid from Community to Home Outreach will be celebrating the same way it has every year since its inception: by granting every family in Pepperell the ability to enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
The organization originated three decades ago as a church-run program, but in 2007 switched hands to a group of volunteers who renamed it PACH Outreach and still maintain its services.
In preparation for the holidays, PACH Outreach has joined forces with several businesses and institutions within the community to host its annual Turkey Drive.
Donelan's Supermarket, North Middlesex Savings Bank, Our Lady of Grace and the Pepperell Christian Fellowship are all selling paper turkeys for $10 a piece. Those donating will be recognized by name on the walls at each of those locations. In return, the funds raised will be put towards the cost of holiday turkeys and other food staples for Pepperell families in need.
"We use the turkey money to buy provisions for both meals for Christmas and Thanksgiving," said PACH Outreach volunteer Janis Boyer. "PACH is really lucky to be able to rely on the community this much."
In 2010, the drive raised $3,000. The following year, it hit $5,000. Already, said Boyer, Donelan's has raised $1,000 and North Middlesex Savings Bank has raised $500. Still, said Boyer, there's no specific goal set for the fundraiser.
"I try not to put a goal out because the economy changes so much, and we don't want to feel disappointed by not reaching a goal. We're so grateful for anything we get. In my heart I always hope to get more than last year, but it's not always possible. You do what you can," said Boyer.
In addition to funds, PACH Outreach also accepts food donations from canned goods to fresh vegetables -- whatever anyone is able to donate.
"We accept everything," said PACH Outreach president Ellen Castellano.
They also receive donations through food drives held at Nissitissit Middle School and Varnum Brook Elementary.
"There are personnel in the schools that help with it," said Castellano. "They get the kids really involved, so it's really quite an effort."
PACH Outreach generally doesn't have a problem receiving donations, though, said volunteers. Every year, regular donations come in from organizations all over town, from the Boy and Girl Scouts to school athletic programs to businesses such as Kimball's Fruit Farm.
The bigger struggle is spreading awareness about the program and reaching out to the families who could use it the most. As well as selling the paper turkeys, the organization has distributed flyers to nine Pepperell churches to help PACH Outreach spread their message.
"The awareness end is always harder for me," said Castellano. "It's hard to be public about getting people to sign up. Most people don't want to ask. They're response is 'Somebody needs it more than I do.'"
Residents interested in a Thanksgiving dinner can register through Nov. 13. Once the registrations are complete, volunteers gather the provisions into baskets and the baskets are then delivered to the families' doors the Sunday before Thanksgiving. The organization currently has 70 volunteers and also partners with local Scout troops to deliver the packages.
Throughout the holidays, said volunteer Bridget Morris, PACH Outreach can serve hundreds of people, and the number keeps increasing every year. As of Nov. 6, they had already received registration from 70 families. Last year, PACH Outreach served 298 residents for Thanksgiving and 299 for Christmas. That number went up from 2010, when they served 181 residents.
"The program works because of all the hard work the volunteers do," said Castellano. "The town people are extremely generous, and I mean that. Without them, this program wouldn't work."
The organization also assists residents in applying to receive fuel to heat their homes through the Massachusetts Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Volunteers work with the program's Lowell division and help residents fill out the paperwork involved in the application process.
"We get trained every year on the paperwork," said Boyer. "It really requires a lot of documentation."
PACH Outreach also offers twice-monthly food distributions to families in need.
Right now, PACH Outreach is located at the Peter Fitzpatrick School. Although the Planning Board recently turned down an article to rezone the property, the organization has their ears pricked for updates on the matter.
"The school has been absolutely wonderful, and we do have a few people looking for space just in case, but we haven't found anything yet," said Castellano.
Residents interested in getting in touch with PACH Outreach can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 978-925-9770.