OAKLAND — Central Mainers who gathered in the cafeteria at Messalonskee High School on Thursday said they were grateful to be in an atmosphere that felt like home for Thanksgiving.

“It gives you a good feeling to be around other people. I’m very thankful they can do this,” said Joan Frederic, 78, gesturing to the dozens of volunteers busy handing out pie, apple cider and hot dinners to the many people gathered for the 24th annual Messalonskee Thanksgiving Day Community Meal.

The dinner, which is sponsored by event founders Bud and Josephine King and their family, served about 1,000 free dinners to area residents on Thursday. There were 34 turkeys, 300 pounds of potatoes, dozens of pies and about 100 volunteers, said Mike Marston, one of the organizers behind this year’s dinner. The event took place from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and included delivery of meals to about 500 people.

“All of these people keep coming back. They bring their kids. It’s really a family event,” said Marston. He said the consistency of volunteers, both old and new, is what makes the dinner possible each year and also makes it a fun event to work at.

On Thursday, the Vigues, a family of four, got their first taste of volunteer work wrapping silverware and cutting slices of pie. Jeremy Vigue, who works at Madison Paper Industries, said because he usually has to work on Thanksgiving, the family hasn’t had the opportunity to volunteer in the past.

“We weren’t sure what to expect. The number of volunteers really surprised me. It’s great to see this kind of support from the community,” said Vigue, 42, of Oakland. His wife, Kim Vigue, and their two daughters, Julia and Kaitlyn, also helped. They said they plan to celebrate the holiday again at home on Friday.

“I like the fact that I’m helping people who wouldn’t have a Thanksgiving dinner on their own,” said 13-year-old Julia Vigue.

Frederic, who attended the dinner with her boyfriend Charles Davis, said she drove about 50 miles from her home in Bingham to attend the dinner. Her three children live in different states, and she said she would probably be spending the holiday at home if not for the community meal.

“It’s a wonderful atmosphere,” she said after finishing her dinner of turkey, cranberry sauce and stuffing.

Meanwhile in Norridgewock, a local diner that has hosted a community Thanksgiving dinner for the past six years also had a successful turnout, said Laura Lorette, owner of What’s for Supper?

By noon on Thursday, about 30 people had been seated for meals and 20 meals had been delivered, she said. The tab for the dinner, which for years was covered by an anonymous donor, was picked up by Summit Natural Gas this year. The company is in the process of installing a natural gas pipeline that will run through the town and, in addition to their donation, sent volunteers to help at the dinner.

“It’s great. All these people would have been disappointed if we didn’t have the dinner,” said Patty Jones, 65, a volunteer who was busy dishing potatoes and stuffing onto plates in the diner’s tiny kitchen.

Mike Leggett, 58, of Waterville, was one of several people who sat down for an afternoon meal at the diner on Thursday. Most of his family has passed away within the last five years, so Leggett said he usually attends Thanksgiving dinner at the Elks Lodge in Waterville, although he has tried cooking for himself in the past. This was his first year at What’s for Supper?, which he heard about through a friend that volunteers at the dinner, he said.

“Cooking for one person and a dog is just not the same. Coming out and enjoying the community is a new experience for me,” he said. “The holiday seems to bring people out.”

Rachel Ohm— 612-2368[email protected]

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