‘Tis is the season! Sharing Joy, Hope, and Meals Beyond Our Table

Adriana Mendes-Sheldon, Director of Community Partnerships

Food Access

Originally published in Portuguese in "Brazilian Times," 'Tis the season! Sharing Joy, Hope, and Meals Beyond Our Table is written by Project Bread staff member Adriana Mendes-Sheldon, who shares the story of her family's annual Thanksgiving Turkey Faceoff- a tradition that is a testament to community, food, and joy.

Gathering family, friends, and newly immigrated neighbors to solve hunger in Massachusetts

As the holiday season approaches, my heart swells with gratitude for the cherished traditions that have woven a tapestry of love, laughter, and togetherness in my household. One of our favorite family traditions stands out as a testament to the power of community, humor, compassion, and the joy of giving: our annual Thanksgiving Turkey Faceoff!

It all began when my husband and I decided to infuse a bit of friendly rivalry into our holiday celebrations, each preparing our turkeys and getting everyone to vote on their favorite. Little did we know then that our turkey competition would evolve into a hilarious family tradition. Most in attendance are immigrants like myself, originally from Brazil, who haven’t had their own Thanksgiving traditions since coming to the U.S. or a place to experience the holiday.

What started as a small gathering has blossomed into a joyous event for which our friends wait expectantly year after year. Teams form to support my turkey or my husband’s, and the days leading to the competition are filled with secrecy and expectations around recipes, ingredients, and cooking strategies for the year. One year, I cooked a very complicated Turducken (Chicken stuffed in a duck, and then stuffed in the turkey)! Another year, we had over 60 people crowding into our home from 17 nationalities, speaking thirteen languages! It was common to have guests whom neither my husband nor I had met until Thanksgiving dinner. But we all had one thing in common - the desire to connect and belong and the need to eat!

So this year, for the thirteenth time, we gathered our kitchen tools, aprons, and turkeys and went to “battle,” drawing friends and family together from around the world. It was so much fun, even though I am sad to announce that my husband won the trophy this year - by one vote! Re-count!

A small statue of a golden goat, celebrating a Sheldon win for the 2023 Thanksgiving Turkey Faceoff. Statue is engraved with the following text "My Turkey, the GOAT, Sheldons, Thanksgiving 2023."
The winner of the Mendes-Sheldon Thanksgiving Turkey Faceoff kisses the small trophy.

Connecting on Community-Led Solutions to Ending Hunger

Still, as we revel in the joy of our traditions and shared meals this holiday season, it's impossible to ignore the stark reality I face daily at work. One in four households with children in Massachusetts is currently facing food insecurity. Latino families with children are hit even harder, with 1 in 3 facing food insecurity, and nearly 60% of immigrant families report experiencing food insecurity or relying on at least one source of food or cash assistance. It's a sobering thought and one that led me to join Project Bread, an organization committed to co-creating sustainable solutions for those grappling with food insecurity and dedicated to eradicating hunger in Massachusetts permanently.

Each day, I connect with organizations working locally to develop and implement community-led solutions, from launching food policy councils and increasing youth advocacy to providing community cooking classes and nutrition education. I feel fortunate to be able to support their work with Project Bread’s resources, network, and policy development, but we still have a long way to go.

This holiday season, as we gather around tables laden with abundance, let us not forget those for whom such feasts are a different reality. If you know someone grappling with the harsh reality of food insecurity, encourage them to reach out to Project Bread's FoodSource Hotline at 1-800-645-8333 — a lifeline connecting individuals with essential food resources across Massachusetts in 180+ languages. If possible, open your home to share meals with others. Create a collaborative, fun, and inclusive gathering by encouraging guests to bring a dish that holds a special place in their hearts. Sharing the responsibility means more variety and less stress and expenses for everyone!

Today, I extend my gratitude beyond the walls of my home, acknowledging the privilege of working statewide to end hunger in Massachusetts. Hunger is a systemic problem, and we can solve it. With generosity, compassion, and community support, I hope to one day see every family in Massachusetts and beyond find a seat at a table adorned with nutritious meals, not only this holiday season but every day throughout the year.

Adriana Mendes-Sheldon is the Director of Community Partnerships at Project Bread, the only statewide organization leading the fight against hunger in Massachusetts.

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