NORRIDGEWOCK — When the warming center at the First Congregational Church opened last year, about six or seven people came each week to visit and eat a hot meal.

Now, the warming center is serving more than 70 homeless, elderly and fixed- or low-income people every Thursday, both with meals provided at the church and delivered to those who can’t leave their home.

“It’s grown a lot,” said the Rev. Nathan Richards. “I wish I could tell you the ins and outs of how this works, but I can’t. It just works.”

People at the church on River Road donate money and food, in addition to community members, anonymous donors, local stores and a federal food assistance program, he said. Volunteers cook, organize and deliver meals.

The result is that people from across Somerset County can turn down their thermostat for a few hours, enjoy the company of others and eat a healthy meal. In the summer, the space becomes a cooling center.

“We’re hoping that people’s spirits are built up here,” Richards said, adding that many local people are experiencing hard times.

“We like the food. We like the company, and we like the church,” Gerald Brown Sr., 73, of Madison, said at a recent lunch of chicken noodle soup, brown bread, deviled eggs, grapes, cheese and coffee. He came with his wife, Dora, 73.

He said he likes getting out to see people and experience new things. He tries to climb two mountains every year and to stay active with kayaking and ice fishing.

Donald Nickerson, 78, of Norridgewock also attended. “I came for the meal and the fellowship and” — he paused — “to see all the pretty girls.” The volunteers nearby laughed.

“It makes me feel good to help other people,” volunteer Betty Libby, of Norridgewock, said. “You get to know them all. You listen to them, and they tell you stories. It makes it worth it.”

Lynda Quinn, who runs the private Somerset Valley Academy in Skowhegan, brought her students recently to volunteer and serve meals. They learn that “sometimes a life well lived is in service to others,” she said.

Erin Rhoda — 612-2368

[email protected]

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