WATERVILLE — Cooking a Christmas dinner for 1,000 people is no big deal.

That’s according to Rob Spencer, a volunteer cook at the fifth annual Central Maine Family Christmas Dinner, a free community event held Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Waterville Elks Lodge.

“It’s very relaxing,” he said.

Spencer, a sous chef for Cacciatores in Fairfield, said he routinely cooks for more than 100 people every night. But cooking for 1,000 is even easier.

“This is actually a lot smoother than the restaurant,” he said, while taking a short break from the bustling kitchen. “It’s really organized, and it’s going super well this year.”

Richard Dionne, 63, has served as kitchen manager for the event since its inception in 2006.

He said meal preparations began Dec. 19 when a truck arrived at the Elks Lodge to deliver 350 pounds of turkey, 380 pounds of mashed potatoes, 350 pounds of stuffing, 250 pounds of squash, 15 gallons of gravy, 1,000 dinner rolls and more.

On Friday, Dionne cooked the turkeys for 10 hours, then stored them in a walk-in. On Saturday, Spencer and another volunteer spent three hours slicing the turkeys while Dionne prepared 350 pounds of stuffing.

Then, on Sunday, kitchen volunteers started arriving at 7 a.m. to heat everything up.

As many as 20 volunteers work in the kitchen throughout the event to prepare and plate the food, while a steady stream of volunteer servers cycle through the kitchen with trays.

In all, about 200 volunteers helped out Sunday, according to event organizer Ziggy Lawrence.

In the crowded dining room, carolers sang while people ate.

Sidney resident Debra Sodoma sat at a long table with her husband and four children. It was their first time at the event.

“We normally visit relatives, but we couldn’t make it there this year. And I have a newborn, so I didn’t want to do my own cooking,” she joked. “I wanted to come and enjoy a Christmas environment with the kids and be able to interact with people, like we normally would on Christmas.”

Clinton resident Gary Wilson, 47, was also a first-timer. His reason for being there was simple.

“I had to if I was going to have Christmas dinner with my mom,” he said.

His mother, Barbara Wilson, 73, of Waterville, has been attending the dinners since the beginning.

“I meet up with some friends I haven’t seen in a while,” she said of the yearly events. “There’s a lot of people here. It’s really nice.”

Burnham resident Sherry Cookson has been volunteering to serve tables at the event for the past five years.

“It was an empty-nest syndrome kind of thing,” she said. “I started doing it because my kids are all grown up and gone, and I was home on Christmas mornings.

“I wasn’t doing anything better on Christmases, so I figured if I can make somebody happy today then I’ve had my Christmas.”

Ben McCanna — 861-9239

[email protected]

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