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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — If unprepared, the night before Thanksgiving can be a hectic time filled with last-minute rushes to the grocery store and stress trying to figure out a good substitution for celery when they’re out.

But none of that anxiety compares the pressures placed on low-income families struggling to put any meal the table — especially since the start of the pandemic.

But some organizations are working to relieve some of that pressure. The Mattie Rhodes Center gave full Thanksgiving dinners away on Wednesday for people in need.

It was actually an additional special meal added onto their weekly service, which it started right when everything shut down in March 2020 and demand for food assistance sky-rocketed.

Wednesday’s giveaway highlights how much of that struggle continues now.

The boxes contain everything you would typically pull out of the oven, including a fully cooked turkey, mashed potatoes and green bean casserole.

“I think just to make it a little bit easier on the families. A lot of them are working throughout the holidays. So having the time to really cook all day and do a whole turkey, this makes it a little bit easier on them,” said Alea Surender, director of public health services at the Mattie Rhodes Center.

The food is paid for through donations and CARES Act money via Jackson County, money intended for COVID relief.

“They’ve lost their job due to COVID. They have had some kind of difficulty or struggle in their life. And just being able to provide a Thanksgiving meal for them and for their family is something that we are grateful for,” case manager Adriana Rangel said.

Most of Rangel’s clients are Latino, African or Asian American. Translating for one recipient, she called the meal an answer to prayers.

“First of all, give thanks to God because thanks to him he gives us life. He gives us the ability to do anything that we want to,” Rangel said, translating.

And beyond the meal, Mattie Rhodes Center staff said it’s exposure to traditions that run deep in their own lives.

“We usually go visit my grandma, and she has a catalog from way back when — I think it was a magazine that had the Jimmy Carter Thanksgiving. And so we make all those recipes from the magazine. And still every year we do the same thing,” Surender said.

“One of the questions was like, ‘Well what are we going to get in the boxes?’ And I was like, ‘Well, you know, it’s a green bean casserole and mashed potatoes with turkey,'” Rangel said. “And she’s like, ‘But what is…what is casserole?’ So I’m here like explaining what it is.”

Most of the families receiving these meals have multiple children. One woman said she had just left a domestic violence situation and was happy this food was pre-prepared because all she currently had access to was a microwave.