AUGUSTA — Organizing the free, community dinners that are offered around central Maine every Thanksgiving isn’t easy, with all the time and effort that’s required to collect food donations, rally helpers, cook hundreds of servings, and handle an equal number of logistics.

Yet for both the eaters and servers in places around Kennebec County, the hard work was worth it.

“It was mobbed earlier, which is great,” said Edna Doyon, a volunteer who stood by the doorway of Le Club Calumet in Augusta and helped greet some 250 diners on Thursday. “It was a very, very good turnout, and everybody is telling us how excellent the food is.”

For the third year in a row, the Augusta organization offered free meals at its event space on West River Road, with all the usual fixings: turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, squash, cranberry sauce and pie.

The club also offered rides for shut-in residents around the city. And as a speaker system played tunes by Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Buffett and the Beatles, a couple people got up to dance.

“It brings people together,” said Shaun Burchell of Augusta, who currently is doing a temporary stay at Riverview Psychiatric Center and came to the dinner with his mother and father. After the meal, he was preparing to root for the Detroit Lions in their game against the Minnesota Vikings.

“Obviously people need a place to go, to remind them of what the season’s about” said his father, Rob Burchell, who just learned of Le Club Calumet’s dinner this year. “There’s definitely a need.”

The free dinner was as much for people who don’t have families or homes as it was for people like Marie Roy, who want to see people but avoid hassles that can come with a large family gathering.

Roy, of Augusta, came with several friends, all of whom agreed that it beats a restaurant dinner because it’s free, relatively uncrowded and just as tasty. They celebrate Thanksgiving with their family on other days of the week, Roy said, but on Thursday, their grown children were busy with their own offspring and in-laws.

“For us, the best thing is not to have to do the cooking,” said one of her friends and fellow diners, Cecile Pare of West Gardiner.

Nearby, even more people were being fed at Messalonskee High School in Oakland.

According to Mike Perkins, co-organizer of that free dinner, volunteers had delivered more the 750 meals by noon and expected at least to deliver 100 more. They also had served nearly 400 meals to diners who came to the high school and expected that number to go up, beating last year’s totals by a couple hundred meals, Perkins said. “I estimate we’ll have close to 1,400 people served today before the days is over,” he said.

Paul Sheppard, of Oakland, was among the diners this year. But for about a quarter-century, he helped organize similar meals.

“Now I get to come and relax and enjoy it with my wife,” Paul Sheppard said.

“I didn’t even know he was getting a dinner for free for twenty-five years of volunteering,” his wife, Helene, added. “I would be home cooking a dinner for us and friends and family, and he would come home to a second dinner.”

Becky LeClair and Dave Dostie were eating meals at the Oakland school on Thursday, after delivering six dinners to people who couldn’t attend the event.

“It was a joy to see the smile on people’s faces when you show up with a hot turkey dinner,” Dostie said.

LeClair, a first-time volunteer, recalled delivering a meal to an 83-year-old woman.

“When we arrived at her door, she was all dressed up and excited to see us,” LeClair said. “She said to us, ‘I’m grateful for the food but thankful for the company.’ She had recently lost her husband, and her son lives far up north.”

Morning Sentinel photographer Michael G. Seamans contributed reporting.

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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