FRAMINGHAM – Cheryl Caira works at Wegmans in Natick. While working this month a week before Christmas, she overheard a conversation that eventually led to 37 families getting a meal on Christmas day.
“I decided to start a meal train after I overheard a conversation between and mom and her son at work. They were leaving the store and the little boy is the most sweet and innocent voice asked his mom if they were going to have to have cereal for Christmas or could they have turkey like his friend. I could not move fast enough and the family left the store,” said Caira.
“This stayed with me and I could not get this little boy out of my head. I thought, if there is one family that has some funds to shop for minimal basics but simply nothing left for a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner then there has to be others,” in need of a Christmas meal, said Caira.
So, Caira set out to create a Holiday food train to help 10 families.
Instead, she helped 37 families and fed more than 150 people on Christmas Day, with the help of so many volunteers.
“I started with a random goal of 10. I can find 10 families, right? I went to Facebook and looked up the groups pages I was part of and then posted in 2 (groups) that were about community, families, and neighborhoods. I ask for ONE. One of anything extra, One turkey, one ham, one lasagna, one pan of potatoes. Again, I expected that a few people would respond,” said Caira.
“I am reaching out the fellow Framingham people to see if I can coordinate some help for some families in need. I know that we have Daniel’s Table, the Pearl St. Cafe, and Salvation Army and many more soup kitchen type places. I do, however, think there are still people that could benefit from a meal for the holidays for their families,” wrote Caira in the Framingham Facebook groups. “Sometimes you just need that little help to do something like a holiday meal that may come just matter of fact to some of us. I have never done anything like this before so any CONSTRUCTIVE help would be welcome. If anyone would like to join me to connect up one of your “just one pay it forward” dishes to an appreciative family.”
Caira said she “never dreamed” the community of Framingham would respond so quickly to help others.
“I then thought quickly, how can I harness this and get the information I need, oh and yes, Christmas was in 10 days. So I got on Google and I created 2 different forms – one for any recipients should I get them and one for any donors,” explained the mother of two.
“I tried to focus on the basics,” said Caira. She said she was looking at how many people they were going to feed and if anyone had food allergies.
Caira said the “first hurdle came after the euphoria that people wanted to help.”
Most importantly, Caira wanted to “find people who truly needed the help.”
“I started with the Superintendent of Schools,” said Caira, who said she was directed to Assistant Superintendent of Schools Joe Corazzini.
“Then I reached out Advocates, and Charles River (local agencies in this area that help families with disabilities as well socio-economic challenges,” said Caira. “Then I reached out to Voices Against Violence.”
Caira said she reached out to organizations she had worked with in the past.
“I was just throwing out ‘nets,’ wherever my brain went to try and find people that needed help,” said Caira.
“The requests started to come in,” said Caira.
In fact, a lot of requests came in for help.
“I have to admit, I did panic a bit,” said Caira, who said she went back to Facebook and again the community responded.
“The term no amount too small was were I started, but not where the community took me. People were pledging to donate in waves,” said Caira. “I have never experienced. Multiple turkeys/hams/pasta dishes. Some donated large sums of money (which I used every single penny on food for families). People offered to shop. People offered to drive to pick things up and drop things off. People offered grocery store gift certificates, which each and every one went to a family. Some even offered to prepare something and then reach out to their neighbors to add to their ‘something’ to form an entire meal for a family. Some offered to choose a family and provide the entire meal themselves,” explained Caira.
“At first I was still in the mentality of ONE. I was creating a spread sheet that had numbers for each recipient and I created a meal for each family. I started with a main (lasagna, turkey, ham), added sides, salads, vegetables, desserts, and bread. Then I ‘plugged’ in the items that people said they could bring,” explained Caira.
“For example, if Sally donated a turkey, and Bob donated mashed potatoes, I could put them under the same family with the goal of forming a complete dinner. I thought “I can do this 10 times, no biggie). Then the storm hit and when I opened up my computer, I had 35 people ready to help and I had 18 families in need,” said Caira to SOURCE.
A few businesses donated. Renee’ Kitchen in Natick donated 10 lasagnas.
Bella’s Sweet Treats donated cake pops.
Whole Foods donated bags of groceries.
Families baked, cooked, and shopped, said Caira.
“We gave cooked meals,” said Caira. We “gave groceries so they could make their own and we gave a combination of the two.”
“COMMUNITY. This was truly the definition of the word,” said Caira.
“I needed to figure a way to keep track of the donations, as well as any additional requests for food,” explained Caira, and the COVID-19 rules did not make it easy.
“I needed to keep everyone safe but still collect. I lined my garage with tables and boxes that were numbered the amount of families we had. If I obtained more food, I added another box,” she explained.
“I arranged between Voices A Violence (SMOC) and the school to have 2 large meet up locations,” said Caira. One was at the South Middlesex Opportunity Council (SMOC) and one was at Wilson Elementary School.
“This worked brilliantly and quickly. I went back to my family donors and asked how many could get their donation to my house,” said Caira.
“All but a handful,” could, she said. “And they were glad to do it!”
“If I got more donations, Then I would call Voices A Violence and Joseph (Corrazinni) and said ‘add another family,” said Caira.
“The last bump (in the plan) came when Whole Foods donation came an hour before we were going to leave my house to distribute,” said Cairam with even more food donations.
“I created even more boxes. Called on some neighbors and close friends to help get groceries sorted and in boxes to move them to the families. This was done, cars were loaded and driven to the distribution locations. People drove up, we put boxes into their cars and away they went. We delivered a handful of boxes to families that could not come to us. I would rather get needed food into the hands of a family then worry about whether they could drive to me,” said Caira.
“My heart if full. The Framingham community came out in droves to help. Without them working together, I would have had to attempt to do this alone (or with my family only),” said Caira.
“Some people would say ‘all I did was ____’of which I would reply, ‘yes and I could not have done that because I was busy at home trying to coordinate everyone’,” she said. “Even what deems as a small ‘help’ was not. This community CAME OUT BIG! 37 families ranging from a 2-person household, to a 9= person household got food that they normally would not have been able to have.”
Caira wanted to “thank my family though, because they ate a little more take-out, did a few more chores, and my husband never complained once about my disappearing to complete this. I could not have done any of this without their help.”
Caira said she would be willing to do it again in 2021, but she would give herself more time than just about a week to accomplish the task.
“I would start earlier. I would create a space almost immediately and meet face-to-face with organizations and try and work together to reach families and actually create this on an even larger scale,” said caira.
Caira also pointed out that she never heard anyone complain and did not have one complaint from anyone.
“People reached out because they wanted to. Businesses reached out because they wanted to. COMMUNITY,” said Caira.
Photos submitted to SOURCE media