WINTHROP — It’s called being friendly, 82-year-old Al Chartier said after handing out napkins to several of his fellow diners at Winthrop Hot Meals Kitchen.

It starts in the kitchen, where volunteers under the direction of cook Beth Loon worked as a team of four Monday to serve up plates of steaming hot American chop suey, homemade coleslaw, fresh rolls, apples with cinnamon and slices of pie.

But clearly “being friendly” isn’t contained within the kitchen. It spills out into the St. Francis Parish Hall where dozens of area residents come up to four days a week for free hot meals and to socialize with friends on both sides of the serving area. And it is delivered to dozens more local residents in meals sent out to those who can’t make it out to the parish hall for the meal, which is served Monday through Thursday 11:30 a.m. to noon.

Altogether, the all-volunteer organization serves about 80 meals each day it is open, giving them to anyone from the area who is in need of either the food, the companionship or both.

Like the others, Loon, who cooks two days a week, doesn’t get paid. While the job doesn’t give her cash, it does give the Winthrop resident something she values, something she lost after a car accident about a dozen years ago left her with injuries which made her unable to continue working as an EMT for the local ambulance service.

The affable Loon said she found herself without purpose in the time after her accident and before someone suggested she volunteer with the Winthrop Hot Meals Kitchen.

She started volunteering at the kitchen about five years ago and was shortly thereafter named head cook, a volunteer role which, she said, pays off in its own way.

“It gives you purpose in life,” she said. “It’s heartwarming, and all of that.”

Organizers of the kitchen are looking for others to come volunteer their time helping there, so they can return to offering meals five days a week and to spread and share the joy they get out of it.

“It’s very rewarding, it really is,” said Kathy Walley, of Farmingdale, a board member of the organization who helps serve meals on Wednesdays. “All of us hate the thought of someone going hungry. And you’ll meet some wonderful people.”

People like Chartier, who usually comes from his home in Winthrop for a meal once or twice a week. Sometimes he’ll bring snacks to share with fellow diners and the volunteers, and he also sometimes comes in with books to give away and jokes to share.

“In my neighborhood, there are not a lot of friends I can sit and talk to, and there is always something going on here,” he said. “It’s a good thing. Because some of the people here, they live alone and don’t want to cook for just themselves.”

Burt Poulin, 94, of Winthrop, who worked in the woods most of his life as a logger, and Rita Doyon, 82, donate money to the kitchen and also come there regularly to eat. Doyon said Poulin likes to go out for a meal, and that’s where he likes to go to eat with their friends.

Walley said they had to stop serving meals on Fridays about a year ago, when a volunteer left and they were unable to find enough people to cook and serve meals five days a week. She said the organization, which has a total of 22 volunteers now, could use another six to eight people, including someone to cook on Fridays, more people to help prepare the food and clean up after the meal, and drivers to deliver meals to people who can’t get to St. Francis.

She said donations are also appreciated and will help the 30-year-old organization, which ceased serving meals for about six months in 2012 during a reorganization, continue its mission of feeding people who are hungry or who desire social interaction.

Those interested in volunteering may call Beth Loon at 377-2311, and donations may be sent to Winthrop Hot Meals Kitchen, P.O. Box 472, Winthrop, ME, 04364.

Monday, volunteers, all from Winthrop, formed an assembly line in the kitchen at St. Francis.

Jennifer McDougold started by picking up a plate, putting a roll on it and passing it to Loon, who spooned a heap of chop suey and apples on the plastic plate and passed it to Bob Letourneau, who added coleslaw, and Jeannette Latulippe, who added a slice of pie, before the loaded plates went out the serving window.

Walley said no special kitchen skills are needed to volunteer, just a desire to help.

“Just a willingness to work,” she said of what is needed. “However they want to contribute, we can work it out, if they have the time.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.