2017-11-17 / Front Page

Thanksgiving dinner a ‘celebration’

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer


The Scarborough Kiwanis Club recently donated 150 turkeys, 130 to the Scarborough Food Pantry and 20 to the Scarborough backpack program. The Kiwanis club received a grant from the Walmart Foundation, which helped pay for the turkeys. The donation will provide a turkey to each family in need served by the Scarborough Food Pantry. The Kiwanis club is one of the community groups coming together to make this holiday season better for residents in town. (Courtesy photo) The Scarborough Kiwanis Club recently donated 150 turkeys, 130 to the Scarborough Food Pantry and 20 to the Scarborough backpack program. The Kiwanis club received a grant from the Walmart Foundation, which helped pay for the turkeys. The donation will provide a turkey to each family in need served by the Scarborough Food Pantry. The Kiwanis club is one of the community groups coming together to make this holiday season better for residents in town. (Courtesy photo) Scarborough schools will be closed Thursday, Nov. 23, but the school’s cafeteria will be brimming with activity as community groups come together to once again offer a free Thanksgiving dinner.

The meal, put on in partnership between the school nutrition program, Scarborough Community Services and Project G.R.A.C.E. (Granting Resources and Assistance through Community Efforts), will take place at the Wentworth School cafeteria from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The meal will feature a traditional Thanksgiving menu with roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, carrots, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, gravy, rolls, coffee, milk, cider, as well as apple and pumpkin pies and will be prepared by the school nutrition staff.

“This is more than just a meal. It is a celebration and everyone is welcomed,” said Steffi Cox, executive director of Project G.R.A.C.E.

The vision for the free community dinner, which Peter Esposito, director of Scarborough’s school nutrition program, said is funded through private donations, came about last year at a forum on food insecurity.

Project G.R.A.C.E. volunteer and former school board chairman Kelly Murphy came up with the idea several years ago when she was hosting Thanksgiving for her family. As luck would have it, a large snowstorm hit the night before and knocked out power for 18 hours. Thanksgiving, she said last year, was saved because of her generator. After reflecting on the ordeal, she thought to herself putting on the holiday meal is difficult and time consuming. Murphy brought the idea up to St. Maximilian Kolbe Church, where she used to work. Although it had support, the idea never materialized. The effort was revived in September 2016 when community groups came together at Scarborough Public Library for Food For Thought, a forum about food insecurity in Scarborough.

“Events like this are important because Scarborough lacks the physical space that would create opportunities for community to develop naturally,” Murphy wrote in an email to the Leader. “Outside of school or sporting events, there aren’t a lot of occasions for people to gather. Sharing a holiday meal creates an immediate and hopefully lasting connection.”

Esposito said last year’s inaugural event fed 250 people, but he expects this year’s attendance to be closer to 400 people. The Community Services Department once again is providing free transportation to and from the event for those who need it.

Esposito anticipates the dinner will be a good cross section of the community, including senior citizens, people without family in the area, people who can’t travel for the holiday and families.

“We had a bunch of different people breaking bread together. It was a great community experience,” he said.

“The response was fantastic,” Murphy said of last year’s event. “Everyone left smiling and promised to return this year.”

The event, she said, would not be possible without a full community effort

“We are so fortunate to live in such a generous community because none of this would be possible without our sponsors and volunteers,” Murphy said. “I’m looking forward to another great dinner prepared by Peter Esposito, (Wentworth School Nutrition Manager) Ann LeGage and their staff.”

There may be a uptick in attendance in Scarborough this year after a similar event at the VFW Hall in South Portland ended after more than 20 years. Debbi Hubbard started the event 23 years ago out of concern elderly residents may not bother to prepare a full Thanksgiving dinner for themselves.

“It was always very heartwarming because we’d get the same people every year and the same group of volunteers, too, and it was often the only time they’d see each other all year long, but we always made everything homemade from scratch, nothing boxed, and you could really feel the love and respect for these neighbors in need,” Hubbard said. “Last year, we served over 250 people, and now I’m so worried these people are going to go there (to the former VFW hall and see nothing there).”

Volunteers are needed for set up on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning, serving the meal on Thursday and cleanup Thursday afternoon. The event also needs 50 homemade pies: 25 apple and 25 pumpkin, preferably in disposable pie pans. To reserve a seat, to get involved or for more information about the dinner, visit: thanksgivingscarborough.weebly.com.

Esposito said he is glad to be able to be part of the community event.

“I am pretty proud to work in a community that really cares about each other and steps up. It is great to be able to come together. We had a lot of different people, who were all there eating and talking. It’s really rewarding for me.”

The Thanksgiving dinner is not the only community effort to help Scarborough residents around the holidays. While community members organize the Thanksgiving dinner, other volunteers at Project G.R.A.C.E. are working hard to put together Thanksgiving baskets for families in Scarborough. Each basket is specified for the family it is going to, but does have the Thanksgiving staples, as well as other more everyday food items. Project G.R.A.C.E. is also beginning to launch its holiday gift-giving program in which a volunteer is matched with a family and its gift tree program, where local businesses collect items for families, including hats and mittens; toys and games; as well as personal items, giftcards, clothing and food. As in previous years, Project G.R.A.C.E. is partnering with the town this winter to raise money for the annual fuel assistance fund

The Scarborough Kiwanis Club is also working to make the holiday better for residents in the area.

Earlier this month, the club donated 150 turkeys – 130 to the Scarborough Food Pantry at First Congregational Church of Scarborough on Black Point Road and 20 to the Scarborough Backpack program, an effort that helps to make sure students have food to take home to their families during school breaks and vacations.

“This is the time of year when all of us are coming together in rejoicing with family and friends and looking forward to celebrating the spirit of the season,” Cox said. “Scarborough always remembers their neighbors who might need that something extra to have a good holiday season. This is when a lot of non-profits are looking for help.”

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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