The yuletide spirit was in full force on Sunday as hundreds of diners flocked to the Waterville Elks Lodge for the 10th annual Central Maine Family Christmas Dinner.

Volunteers — many wearing bright red shirts and a few dressed in elf clothing or reindeer antlers — steered guests to empty spaces at long banquet tables and brought them helpings of turkey, potatoes, pie, squash and eggnog. Diners savored the meal and the company, while also bringing children to a Santa Claus at the front of the hall and listening closely to a woman calling raffle winners.

“I come here every year,” said Ralph Norton, 65, of Waterville, who came to the dinner with his 26-year-old son, Dominic Norton. “We like the gathering, the fellowship, seeing the kids light up. It has a good spirit. That’s what it’s all about.”

Bringing out the good spirits was a main objective of the event’s organizers.

This year’s family dinner followed a year marked by several tragedies. On Christmas Day 2015, a car traveling on Industrial Road, which leads to the Elks Lodge, struck a horse-drawn wagon that was carrying several of the event’s volunteers.

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.

And two months ago, Karen Cucci, the wife of one of the dinner’s organizers, died of cancer.

This year’s family dinner was dedicated to the memory of both women.

But Jeff Cucci, Karen’s husband, who was greeting everyone entering the family dinner on Sunday, said that something positive came out of his wife’s death: a better understanding of life by all who knew her. And in a similar manner, Cucci said, people who attended the Christmas gathering this year could learn their own lessons about the lives of others.

“All the volunteers have smiles on their faces,” he said. “There are people here who are by themselves (in life). They don’t have any family, and they look forward to being here.”

Cucci said 900 diners were expected at the family dinner, which ran from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Jeff and Nicole Powers, along with their 18-month-old daughter Zoey, were among the volunteers at the Christmas dinner. They live in Massachusetts and were visiting family who live in Hallowell. The young parents took turns carrying Zoey, who was entertained by the large crowds.

“We just wanted to give back and also show Zoey at an early age the importance of giving back,” said Nicole, who credited all the effort put in by the organizers of the event.

It was tiring work, Nicole added, particularly given the need to carry their child around.

Among the diners were Beverly and Earland Lake of Athens, who first came to the Christmas dinner two years ago.

“We like to see people out, and all the kids,” said Earland, who is 73.

The couple was sitting near the Santa Claus station, and they noted with amusement that some kids were too young or shy to enjoy his company.

“A lot of the kids, they don’t like Santa,” Earland said.

The couple also enjoyed the food served at the dinner.

“It’s very good,” Earland said. “It’s always good.”

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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