OAKLAND — When Messalonskee High School’s annual Thanksgiving Dinner first began, about 57 individuals were served a warm meal.

Now, 34 years later, more than 1,300 community members are being served through a tradition started by a local man who wanted to continue giving back to his community after he retired.

Bud King, 96, looks forward to spending the event with the community each year.

“My wife, daughter and I are very civic minded and we like staying involved with the community,” King said. “When I had to retire for health reasons, my wife and I sat down to think of ways to pay back the town of Oakland.”

Joining King on Thursday was his daughter, Dru Aslam, 62, and her son, Jai Aslam. While Dru sat with her father and chatted with community members, her son helped deliver meals to families that were not able to attend the dinner in the high school cafeteria.

The meal began around 11 a.m., with guests seating themselves and volunteers delivering meals, drinks and desserts to the tables. Preparing for the dinner is a three-day process, according to Jessica Garten, of Belgrade, who has been volunteering for 15 years.

Cody Curtis, of Skowhegan, carries containers of pie Thursday during the community Thanksgiving meal at Messalonskee High School in Oakland. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

“I love coming out every year and seeing our youth helping out,” Garten said. “This is a three-day event for me. It’s amazing, they are the future of this program when we are old and can’t do this anymore.”

Garten and other volunteers spent the day Wednesday preparing 48 turkeys for the Thanksgiving meal. Meals were available both at the cafeteria, for pickup and delivery.

“It’s a family tradition for us. My kids have been volunteering since they were young and now they’re running the kitchen,” Garten said.

Betty Belanger says that this is also a tradition for her and her children: Addison, 7, Isabella, 13, and Gabriel, 11.

“I’ve been doing this since I was in high school. I keep coming back because I love helping people and spending a few hours of the day with familiar faces,” Betty Belanger said.

Volunteers included high school students, alumni, local politicians and community members.

Austin Foss, who graduated from Messalonskee High School in 2015, has been helping out with the event since he was 10.

“My mom heard about it and kept bringing us back,” he said. “It’s good to help out the community and has become a tradition for me.”

“This used to be my old stomping grounds and this is one of the best Thanksgiving events,” said Adrienne Bennett, a candidate for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District. “This is what the holiday is all about. It just warms your heart to see as many volunteers as we have, the local folks coming in and Bud King. The community is so lucky to have him.”

Bennett hopes that the dinner encourages children and teens to continue to give back to the community.

“Seeing the older folks interacting with the younger generation is cool to see, you’re teaching the next generation to give back and how to do so in a community setting and I think that’s something that we’ve lost,” she said. “We’ve lost a sense of community in many places and this brings that back and that warms my heart.”

Mike Perkins has been volunteering at the dinner since it began in 1985. A town councilor and state representative, he looks forward to coming every year and interacting with members of the community.

“A lot of work goes into this and being able to give back is what it’s all about,” Perkins said. “I constantly like to give back and try to help my community. It’s a lot of work, but it’s so much fun.

Perkins began helping out Wednesday with food preparations and last-minute organization. He arrived at 7 a.m. and hit the ground running — gathering supplies and setting tables.

According to Perkins, the food is donated by King and his family. Other supplies, including plates and silverware, are donated by local businesses.

“It’s such a good thing. I’m thankful for the great state of Maine and the awesome people that live here, for the help and volunteers that showed up today, and for the community members that came out,” he said. “The best part about this is that some of these people would otherwise be alone today eating by themselves. But they come out here for a meal and some company so they’re not alone, and that’s what I’m thankful for. This is what it’s all about.”


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