December 20, 2012

Charity hopes to feed 1,000 at annual Waterville Christmas dinner

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE — A local charity hopes to feed 1,000 people a Christmas dinner this year at an annual event that continues to grow.
Organizers are seeking donations and volunteers to pull off what they say is the largest Christmas Day feast in the area.
Norman Lawrence of the Central Maine Family Christmas Dinner, said the nonprofit group’s event has grown since six years ago, when fewer than 300 attended.
“People get depressed because they remember Christmases past and they’re sitting home alone,” he said.
Last year, 850 people who might otherwise have been alone on Christmas Day ate at the Elks Club courtesy of the group, which is prepared to feed 1,000, including hundreds of volunteers.
Lawrence said many volunteers join because they have no holiday plans either. It’s a category that includes Lawrence and his wife, Kim, who first dreamed up the community dinner when they found themselves alone one year.
“Our kids have left the nest,” he said.
He said the event typically draws a wide variety of people, including the elderly, families and others who, for one reason or another, want to participate in some Christmas cheer.
The idea also is supported by health experts, including the Mayo Clinic, which advise that people who feel lonely or isolated during the holidays seek out community events to prevent holiday stress and depression.
In addition to the nonprofit’s board members, the dinner is coordinated with help from 15 area churches, the Waterville Elks, the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter, corporate sponsors, individual donations, soup kitchens and the Salvation Army, which provides a Christmas stocking to every child in attendance.
Activities at the dinner include Christmas caroling, opportunities for photographs with Santa Claus and hayrides on a horse-drawn wagon.
Lawrence said the total cost of the enterprise is about $7,000 annually, which includes the cost of insurance for the organization and an advertising campaign that spreads the word to those who might benefit by coming to the dinner.
Lawrence said the organization accepts donations before and after the dinner, but not on Christmas Day.
“The actual day of the dinner, I don’t want to see any money,” he said. “People get mad at that sometimes, but my feeling is, I don’t want people to feel obligated that they have to donate.”
Lawrence said the food, most of which is provided at a discount from a local food distributor who prefers to remain anonymous, costs the organization about $2,500 and is prepared on-site by professional cooks who volunteer their services.
He said the menu is traditional, with a turkey as the centerpiece and desserts brought by members of the partner churches.
While the dinner is on Christmas Day, Lawrence said the effects can be felt in the community throughout the year by those who have been drawn closer by the shared experience.
As an example, Lawrence said, last year volunteers picked up an elderly couple in Hartland and brought them to the dinner. The man used a walker and had a difficult time getting out of the house.
Over the summer, the volunteers put a ramp on the house for him.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-928

click image to enlarge

DINERS CLUB: Rick Fischer, a volunteer from South China, looks for empty coffee cups that need filling at the fifth annual Central Maine Family Christmas Dinner at the Elks Lodge in Waterville in 2011.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

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