MADISON — When Nancy Payne arrived at Madison Area Memorial High School last week for the annual Senior Citizen Thanksgiving Dinner, she was immediately welcomed by student volunteers.

Once she walked through the doorway, she connected with her friends Pamela Messier and Raymond Cahill. The three waited patiently in the lobby for more of their friends to arrive and reflected on how they’ve celebrated Thanksgiving in the past.

For Messier, she says she has spent the holiday either with her daughter, friends or home alone. She looks forward to this event each year as it gives her an opportunity to connect with other friends within her community.

Madison Area Memorial High School senior Dawson Earnes, left, scoops out cranberry sauce during a free Thanksgiving dinner hosted by Madison Area Memorial High School on Thursday. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

“I’ve come a few times and enjoy the company and the food,” she said.

“Seeing people you know and catching up with them is great, especially over dinner,” Cahill added.

Payne said that her daughter’s class was the first to start the tradition back in the early 1990s as part of their class project, which required them to do some sort of community event.

“My daughter graduated in 1995,” she said. “Her class started this and it’s wonderful that it has been continued all of these years.”

Payne jokingly added that only recently did she start coming to the annual dinner.

“I’m here for the free meal, of course, and for being old,” Payne said. “You might as well rejoice in your age. You are what you are.”

Gavin Chillington, an eighth-grader at Madison Area Memorial High School, hands out buns to fill out the Thanksgiving dinner Thursday at Madison Area Memorial High School.

The annual dinner is held at Madison Area Memorial High School each year with the help of students, parents, faculty and local businesses. Stephany Perkins, the Jobs for Maine Graduates instructor at the school, has spearheaded the efforts since she began teaching five years ago.

“It’s free for the community to attend,” she said. “We order food and we get donations from community businesses.”

Additionally, each class at the high school is designated certain canned food items to bring in for the event, and school staff is tasked with baking pies for desserts. A foods class that is taught at the high school makes the apple crisp that is served. Meals are also available for takeout for those who are homebound.

Each year, about 300 meals are served, Perkins said.

“We are usually consistently at 300, which is about all that we can handle,” Perkins said. “It’s great. We have a good turnout every year and it’s very rewarding.”

This year, about 50 students, which makes up about 25% of the student body, volunteered to help with the dinner. Their duties included greeting guests at the door, seating them, serving them, cooking in the kitchen and cleaning.

Susannah Curtis, a junior at the school, has been volunteering for five years. It began with her and her father delivering meals. Now, Curtis said her dad continues to deliver, but with a friend.

“I like that the event is free,” Curtis said. “People are really happy to be coming in, and you get to do something nice while giving back to the community. It’s also fun seeing people that you know and catching up with them.”

Katrina Braney, a senior, shares the same sentiments.

“I’ve done it for the past two years because I didn’t know about it sooner,” she said. “I needed more community service hours for National Honor Society, and I know a lot of the elders in town, so I wanted to give back.

“Seeing how happy they are when they get their meals and seeing how the community comes together is incredible. The ones that don’t have a family to go home to during the holidays have that kind of reassurance that we are here for them.”

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