March 17, 2010

Free Thanksgiving dinners offered to the public

BY AMY CALDER Staff Writer

BY AMY CALDER

Staff Writer

Some people in central Maine may go hungry this winter, but volunteers everywhere are bent on making sure it doesn't happen on Thanksgiving.

Free dinners are being offered as early as this week and through the Thanksgiving holiday Nov. 27 at schools, churches and soup kitchens. Some organizations are handing out holiday baskets complete with turkey and all the trimmings before Thanksgiving.

Perhaps the largest dinner around will be offered from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thanksgiving Day at Messalonskee High School in Oakland.

Event founders Bud King and Mike Marston have enjoyed organizing the dinner for 18 years, with King and his family funding the mammoth effort.

This year, 33 30-pound turkeys, about 300 pounds of potatoes, onions, stuffing, peas, pies and other goodies are on the menu, according to King.

"The first year, I think we served between 50 and 60 people," King, 85, said Friday. "I think Mike was a little discouraged and I said, 'We've got to give it time,' and the next year it was 100 people and then it kept growing and now, on average, it's 900 people."

Anyone is welcome to attend the event in which diners are served-restaurant-style. No one has to stand in line. Rich or poor, single or attached, young or old -- all are encouraged to come.

"It's very homey," King said. "The people, the togetherness -- and not only on the part of the people coming in, but the people working -- it's very, very close. People take their time. There's no hurrying."

Those wanting an extra meal to take home to someone else or a package of leftovers for Friday and Saturday are welcome to take them, King said.

After that, the rest of the food is given to the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter (in Waterville), of which Marston is executive director.

Rides are available to and from the event and meals will be delivered to homes, as long as people call 578-8041 ahead of time, Marston said. Volunteers who want to cook, serve food or drive also may call that number.

"We just open it up to anybody who'd like to help us," Marston said.

King for many years owned and operated Bud's Groceries in downtown Oakland; Marston is a former Messalonskee teacher and current Skowhegan Area High School varsity football coach. Their families have known each other for years and they are very close.

The men have spent a lifetime helping others.

King says the annual Thanksgiving dinner would not be possible if not for Marston; Marston credits it all to King.

"The meal could never have happened in the first place without him," Marston said. "It could never have continued without him. It's the spirit of giving that is really the essence of this meal."

King, his wife, Josephine, their daughter, Dru and her husband, Sonny Aslam, are key to the success of the event, as are Mike Perkins and many others who lend a hand -- including the local Girls Scouts who are baking the pies.

Besides the Messalonskee dinner, other free meals are being offered this week and next, and holiday baskets are available through some food banks.

IN WATERVILLE: the Alfond Youth Center on North Street will offer a traditional turkey dinner from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday. The center's Chuck Karter says he expects 500 or 600 people to attend.

Also in Waterville, the Sacred Heart Soup Kitchen on Pleasant Street will host a Thanksgiving dinner from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Nov. 25.

IN MADISON: the sophomore class at Madison Area Memorial High School, assisted by teachers, staff and the student body, are sponsoring the 19th annual traditional Thanksgiving dinner for senior citizens from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 25, according to teacher Raelene Allen.

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