GARDINER — Josh and Erica Atkinson loaded 66 Thanksgiving meals with all the trimmings into their small sport utility vehicle Thursday, bound for Richmond.

The Pittston couple, married 11 years, began volunteering at the Augusta Valley Scottish Rite Masons Thanksgiving meal even before they were married.

“Before this, I didn’t have a sense of what Thanksgiving was,” Erica Atkinson said. “It was Macy’s Day Parade and a day off from school. It’s really brought meaning to Thanksgiving.”

After getting help from several volunteers at Gardiner Area High School, which hosts the meal each year, Josh and Erica headed for Richmond.

Their first stop was on Front Street, where David and Debra Brezler have fallen on hard times. They were worried they wouldn’t have enough food to feed their extended family on the holiday.

“The last three years have been incredible,” said David Brezler, as his wife lay sleeping in a makeshift downstairs bedroom.

Debra, who needs dialysis to help her kidneys function, had triple bypass surgery in June. A month later, she fell on the steps at home, breaking her fifth and six vertebrae. The fall left her with little use of her arms and no use of her legs. The couple, married for 36 years, took delivery of 15 meals, enough for their visiting family and a few extra to help them get through another day.

“I knew our meals were going to be a little short,” David said as he stood in the kitchen. “A lot of people have been very generous. In this economy, we’ve got to do everything we can.”

A case worker helping the Brezlers suggested they could get some help from the volunteers who devote part of their Thanksgiving Day — and, in some cases, several days before — to making sure people in central Maine don’t have to go without on the holiday.

About 50 volunteers cooked, sliced, served and assembled the meals for the 94 people who came to eat at the school and the 335 meals that were delivered to homes and apartments in the area. One delivery went as far as a hotel in Lewiston, where a family was staying after being burned out of their home just days before, said Joe Atkinson, Josh’s father and the organizer of the 11 delivery drivers.

On the food side, volunteers cooked 17 turkeys — 20 pounds each — prepared 230 pounds of potatoes, 220 pounds of turnips and 220 pounds of squash, said John Lord, who organized the event this year. Elvin Farm in Kents Hill donated the produce and the volunteers made stuffing and gravy on site.

Vicki Dill’s friends, family and co-workers baked 68 pies of all varieties, including apple, blueberry, custard, cherry, pumpkin and chocolate cream. There was also a “fruit of the forest” pie with apple, raspberry, blackberry and rhubarb. NorthCenter Food Service and Bowie Bros. donated money to help cover other costs, Dill said.

It was Lord’s first time in charge of the annual meal. Traditionally, Larry Perkins organized the food and volunteers, but a serious medical issue meant someone else needed to step up this year.

“They kept good records, so it made it relatively easy to step in,” Lord said. ‘It’s unreal the calls you get from people wanting to help.”

And for those who need a place to go on the holiday, the meal at the high school has become a social event.

“You’ll see some of the same faces year after year and this is the only place you see them,” Lord said.

Susan Cover — 620-7015

[email protected]


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