WATERVILLE — It can be stressful organizing a dinner for nearly 1,000 people, along with entertainment.

But Ziggy Lawrence says it’s worth it to see people’s faces.

“It’s a labor of love,” Lawrence said Friday. “You see all the smiling faces and it’s a good feeling, because you know that it’s a good thing.”

The Central Maine Family Christmas Dinner will be held Dec. 25 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Waterville Elks Banquet and Conference Center at 76 Industrial Road, which is a dead-end road off Armory Road, near the Elm Plaza intersection.

Lawrence, founder of the dinner, said they have enough food to feed 1,000 people this year, including 430 pounds of turkey for a traditional Christmas dinner. There will also be a hayride from noon to 2 p.m., stockings filled with toys from the Salvation Army for children, music from two different groups and a visit from Santa Claus at noon. Rides to and from the event are available for those who need them by calling 877-5775.

Adding another layer of stress to this year’s event, though, is that it comes following tragedy at last year’s festivities. Around 2:30 p.m. a car struck a horse-drawn wagon on Industrial Road that was carrying those who had volunteered at the Christmas dinner. Kathy Marciarille, of Rome, died from her injuries after she was thrown from the wagon. Richard Libby, a Christmas dinner volunteer from Clinton, was driving the car that hit the rear of the wagon, and he said at the time that he was momentarily blinded by sunlight and driving 18 or 19 mph.

In the aftermath of that accident, Lawrence said the wagon rides will instead this year travel down a side road off Industrial Road and a car will follow the wagon with flashing lights on as a precaution.

“This is obviously the 10th year we’ve done it. It has been very trying to do it this because of what happened,” Lawrence said, referring to the fatal accident. “But we try not to dwell on it — I don’t want to take away from the good that’s come out of” the Christmas dinner.

Eleven years ago Lawrence and his wife, Kim, were looking for a place to volunteer on Christmas. Unable to find any events in Waterville, they went to Bangor to volunteer along with some people from his motorcycle club. “When we left there, one of the guys in the club challenged me to do it in Waterville,” Lawrence said. So the following May, Lawrence, with the help of friends and family, started organizing the Central Maine Family Christmas Dinner.

The event started with “more volunteers than we had people,” Lawrence said. But now in its 10th year, the event gives nearly 1,000 people a place to go on Christmas Day. The organizing committee now has about 12 people participating, and more than 200 people have signed up to volunteer.

The idea behind the event is that no one should have to spend Christmas alone, Lawrence said.

“I think there’s a lot of people who are alone at Christmas,” he said. “Christmas is supposed to be a happy time of year, but for a lot of people it’s not because they’re alone for some reason. A lot of people get depressed at Christmas.”

Lawrence himself said he and his wife were looking for a place to volunteer years ago because they had “empty nest syndrome” when their children grew up.

“The whole thing behind this is to come out and make new memories,” he said.

The committee starts organizing the event and raising money in September. Last year’s budget was a little over $10,000, Lawrence said.

This year, the event has 14 corporate sponsors, as well as sponsorships and donations from 14 churches and multiple other organizations. Lawrence said the Fairfield VFW is especially helpful and they “couldn’t do it without them.”

At the Elks Lodge Friday afternoon, volunteers Rob Spencer and Fred Snyder were in the back kitchen starting to put turkeys in the oven. There would be about 380 pounds of turkey for the dinner, they said.

Lawrence said the event is still in need of help — particularly if anyone wanted to make desserts, like baking a pie and dropping it off at the Elks Lodge. Volunteers will be there all day Saturday and starting around 5:30 a.m. Sunday morning.

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour

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