AUGUSTA — More than 30 volunteers spent their Christmas serving up hundreds of meals to locals at the South Parish Congregational Church.

The38th annual event is becoming a tradition for volunteers, who seek to serve the community, and attendees, who value a hot meal with good company.

Bill Caldwell speaks Tuesday with a fellow guest during the Christmas dinner served at the Old South Congregational Church in Augusta.

A third of those volunteers were cooking turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and carrots in the kitchen, while a steady stream of locals gorged with their friends and family.

The event was held at South Parish for the first time ever this year. Previous, it was held at Emmanuel Lutheran Episcopal Church, formerly named Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, but South Parish had more room for the event.

More room was needed because attendance was up significantly from last year, almost solely because of clear weather. Last year, a blizzard passed through central Maine, hampering commutes for delivery drivers and those driving to the event.

“A couple of our drivers got stuck in the snow banks, but they finished their deliveries,” organizer Carlene Kaler said.

For attendees, the meal is a tradition. Bill Caldwell, of Farmingdale, and his former foster daughter Hope Cady and her children, Deandre and Andreah, said it was their third year in a row attending the supper and important time to catch up.

“We only see each other once a year,” Caldwell said. “It’s very nice (to see each other); it’s always very good.”

A number of area families work volunteering at the supper into their annual traditions. Husband and wife Keith and Heather Priest, of Augusta, have volunteered at the supper for about 20 years. Keith Priest is a stalwart in the team of cooks, while Heather marshaled attendees to tables and their daughter Maggie handed out name tags as groups filed into the banquet hall.

“I love traditions and (volunteering) has actually become one of our traditions,” Heather Priest said. “Years ago, (my husband) would leave, come back and do the tree then we would all go over.”

Jessica Stratton, of Manchester, was volunteering with her family for the eighth consecutive year on Tuesday. She said volunteering was an important part of her family’s holiday season.

“We really love it,” she said. “It’s nice for Christmas not to just be about getting presents; you get to be with family and give back to the community.”

Kaler, who has helped coordinate meal deliveries for the last five years, said drivers deliver between 200 and 300 meals every year.

Volunteers set up seats and tables Tuesday for an overflow crowd of guests at the Christmas dinner served at the Old South Congregational Church in Augusta.

Tuesday’s supper was organized by members of the Augusta Angel Food Network, a non-denominational group of Greater Augusta Christian churches. The group holds free suppers every Saturday at five different locations and operates solely on volunteer work and donations.

Kaler said the meal’s volunteers are not limited to churches in Angel Food Network, with some annual volunteers from local Jewish synagogue Temple Beth El. She said the pool of volunteers is growing and there is always a job for people.

“We have several that have come year after year (and) I have new people that I see signing up this year,” she said. “Sometimes we just need people to visit with the people attending the meal.”

Kaler said Augusta-based businesses NorthCenter, a food service company, and Damon’s Pizza and Italians donated parts of the main course and community members baked pies and other desserts.

“It takes a village,” she said.

Sam Shepherd — 621-5666

[email protected]

Twitter: @SamShepME

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