Organizations that help feed and shelter low-income Mainers are expecting a busy Thanksgiving as this year’s holiday coincides with an early bout of frigid weather.

The National Weather Service forecasts that high temperature in Portland on Thursday will be just 17 degrees and blustery winds – with gusts up to 40 mph – will push the wind chill to minus-8 degrees. Much the same is predicted for Thursday night, with a low of 14 degrees and wind chills still below zero.

Meaghan Void, interim director of the city of Portland’s Oxford Street homeless shelter, said additional staff will be on hand to adjust for an increase in demand because other facilities are closed for the holiday. But the city has been operating the Oxford Street location as a 24-hour facility – offering day-shelter services – since last December, so Void said “we are pretty much prepared.”

The city family shelter is currently full and an overflow “warming center” housed 63 individuals Tuesday night. The 154-bed Oxford Street shelter and a 75-bed overflow space at the Preble Street resource center have also been near capacity.

“We can choose to open another overflow shelter but we haven’t had to do that yet,” Void said.

The community services nonprofit Preble Street will also be open from 8 a.m. to noon for “drop-in services” and will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner on Thursday.

“Homelessness is often a tragic and hidden circumstance, and in recent days we’re serving more families with children who are homeless in the city,” said Dan D’Ippolito, Preble Street’s community engagement director. “We’re especially aware of how difficult the holidays can be for those without family or a place to go. Being open on Thanksgiving is very important to us. We will not only be serving meals in all our dining rooms but often have volunteers and staff available to provide music to make it special.”

Of course, churches and community or civic groups throughout Maine open their doors on Thanksgiving to offer free, warm meals to anyone who wants one.

Organizers of the annual Thanksgiving dinner at the Portland Club are expecting to feed between 200 and 250 visitors this year. The dinner – held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 156 State St. – is free and open to the public.

Mary Zwolinski, executive director of Wayside Food Programs, said those numbers have been rising every year. And while weather isn’t usually a big factor in attendance, Zwolinski said, they are concerned about early-birds waiting out in the cold before doors open at 11 a.m.

“Once they get in, they are going to get a great meal and we’ll have a lot of hot drinks,” said Zwolinski, adding that cooks at DiMillo’s on the Water were cooking about 30 turkeys for the dinner. “We are seeing more families coming and more seniors coming. I think people are feeling like they don’t want to be by themselves at this time of the year.”

VFW Post 6859, at 687 Forest Ave. in Portland, will also hold a free Thanksgiving dinner from 2 to 5 p.m. on Thursday.

In Lewiston, staff and volunteers at Hope Haven Gospel Mission expect to dish out meals to between 300 and 350 people on Thursday. The majority of those meals will be delivered to home-bound individuals or families who couldn’t make it to the sit-down dinner.

Rebecca Winslow, business administrator and volunteer coordinator at Hope Haven Gospel Mission, said they have received some additional delivery requests this year from people concerned about going out in the cold weather. The men’s portion of the mission’s 32-bed homeless shelter is nearly full as well.

But Winslow said people are looking forward to Thursday’s dinner.

“What really stands out to me this year is the outpouring of volunteers,” Winslow said. “We have had call after call from people wanting to come help out with this process.”

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

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