December 23, 2010

Family Christmas Dinner continues to grow

By Scott Monroe smonroe@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE — Guests and volunteers shouldn't notice anything too different about this year's Central Maine Family Christmas Dinner.

click image to enlarge

Zachary Wentworth, 3, of Clinton helps serve Laura Rockwell of Waterville with his mom Michelle Wentworth at the annual Central Maine Family Christmas Dinner at the Waterville Elks Banquet Hall on Christmas Day, 2009. Organizers were prepared to serve about 1,000 people this year with help from hundreds of volunteers.

Photo by Jeff Pouland

Christmas meals

Other free Christmas dinners in the central Maine area include:

• In Pittsfield, on Friday, Christmas Eve, The Welcome Table will serve a free meal at its regular weekly time, from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., at the First Universalist Church at 6 Easy Street.

• In Augusta, on Christmas Day, are all invited to a free Christmas turkey dinner from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, 209 Eastern Ave., Route 17. Meals are delivered to the elderly by a group of volunteer drivers. Rides to the church are also available if people make arrangements ahead of time. The dinner will also feature a gift table for guests, as well as music and singing. For more information or to arrange pick up or delivery, call 623-9486 between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. and leave a message.

• In Palmyra, on Christmas Day, the Millennium Wedding & Convention Center, at 416 Oxbow Road, is sponsoring a free Christmas luncheon from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. to show appreciation to its patrons and to give back to local communities. Volunteers will serve a roast beef and ham dinner. Organizers are asking that anyone who plans to attend to call 368-2352 or e-mail thea@milwed.com with the number for the lunch.

• In Skowhegan, on Christmas Day, a free dinner will be at 5 p.m. at the Centenary United Methodist Church hall at 33 Dr. Mann Road. Volunteers will be barbecuing donated turkeys and pork loins for dinner. For more information, call 474-2765 or e-mail francis1@surfglobal.net.

The Waterville Elks Banquet hall at the end of Industrial Street is still expected to be filled with more than 1,000 people on Saturday, Christmas Day, featuring free hot meals, gifts for children, hayrides, holiday music and a visit from Santa Claus.

A traditional turkey dinner will be served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Event organizers say the third annual dinner's goal remains the same: that locals don't spend Christmas alone.

What's new this year is happening behind the scenes: the group organizing the popular event has formed its own corporation and is on its way to becoming a nonprofit, while new donations are helping pay for costs.

Norman "Ziggy" Lawrence, of Albion, president of the Christmas dinner committee, said the group now has a board of directors and is carrying liability insurance.

"Basically, our intention is to keep this going," Lawrence said. "When this started out, it formed because it was an idea my wife and I had. We just hope this continues from year to year and our relationship with the Elks continue, because they have been more than gracious in providing us with that facility, and it's perfect."

And while some groups or organizations can't give as generously as they have in the past, others have stepped up to offer more assistance, Lawrence said. A woman who recently died, for instance, left several thousand dollars in her will toward the Christmas dinner, Lawrence said.

In addition, local churches are playing a bigger role this year. In previous years, a half-dozen or so churches have offered volunteers, desserts and transportation for the elderly. This year, there are 15 different churches, Lawrence said.

"From the get-go, we wanted it to be a community thing, not just one entity, so that was kind of neat to see the way it was happening," Lawrence said. "Faith was a big contributor."

Capt. Stephanie Thompson of the Waterville Salvation Army is coordinating the more than 250 volunteers needed to prepare and serve the food.

Although the event is expected to have enough volunteers, Lawrence said, people won't be turned away if they still want to help.

Last year, about 800 meals were served at the Elks hall, which seats about 300.

If people want to drop off donations of desserts, they can do so starting Friday, from about 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Lawrence said.

For more information, visit www.centralmainefamilychristmasdinner.com or call 877-5258.

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