Lawrence Gagnon, 69, left, of Waterville and Jimmie Bickford, 58, of Oakland, wait in line Saturday at the Alfond Youth & Community Center on North Street in Waterville to pick up free, hot Thanksgiving meals. Amy Calder/ Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE — Jimmie Bickford and Lawrence Gagnon sat in Bickford’s Subaru wagon, the fifth car in line Saturday to receive free, hot Thanksgiving meals at the Alfond Youth & Community Center on North Street.

The line of vehicles stretched up the street, past the athletic fields and Thayer Center for Health, beyond County Road and nearly to Colby College.

“We’re always the first ones in line,” Bickford, 58, of Oakland said.

Bickford planned to pick up three meals — one for himself and two for his parents, he said. Gagnon, 69, of Waterville was going to take two; one, for himself and one for the woman who lives across the hall from him.

“It’s terrific,” Gagnon said. “It’s more than terrific because, look at all the cars coming.”

Bickford, a former janitor at the Alfond Center, said the center usually hosts a sit-down Thanksgiving meal but that was not possible this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. He patronizes the center to swim and Gagnon goes there to work out in the indoor pool but they haven’t been going the last few weeks because of the pandemic.

Ken Walsh, chief executive officer of the Alfond Youth & Community Center, stands Saturday on the roof of the center in Waterville as hundreds of vehicles line up North Street to pick up free, hot Thanksgiving meals. Amy Calder/ Morning Sentinel

Ken Walsh, chief executive officer of the Alfond Center, which includes the Boys & Girls Club and YMCA of Greater Waterville, dropped by to greet Gagnon and Bickford.

“We miss these guys every single day,” Walsh said.

“The only thing that’s stopping us is the virus,” Gagnon said.

The exchange between Walsh and the men was upbeat, following a more serious tone Walsh exhibited earlier while standing on the roof of the Alfond Center and inspecting the long line of vehicles winding up North Street to the west. This year, particularly, the need is great, according to Walsh.

“This is way more than I think anyone would expect,” he said.

Walsh said the staff came in around 6 a.m. Saturday to prepare and pack the meals, which represented 850 dinners of turkey and all the trimmings. Planning for the event had started long before, he said.

Thursday and Friday, the staff handed out bags containing everything a family needs for Thanksgiving dinner to more than 170 families of children who attend the center’s after school programs. The bags included a frozen turkey.

The three-day effort required generous donations and a lot of volunteer work. Walsh said donors stepped up to the plate to help.

“It didn’t take long,” he said. “I sent a text out to our donors in the community associated with our organization and within 15 minutes we had more than $3,000 worth of turkeys.”

He said that, with all the division occurring around the country because of the pandemic and recent elections, events such as Saturday’s serve to bring people together.

“If we need anything, it’s unity, and unity is service and this is demonstrating that right now,” he said. “No matter what your party affiliation may be, common causes like this band people together.”

Walsh said that when the pandemic hit, the Alfond Center vowed to keep its workforce together. The employees really appreciated that philosophy and get excited when opportunities arise to help others, according to Walsh. Center kitchen chief Shawn Forkey and a lot of other staff members helped to make the meal giveaways happen.

The center has been hosting free holiday meals since the 1920s, he noted. On Dec. 19, it will host a similar holiday-oriented event, to include hot meals and presents.

“We’re going to have this whole place lit up in lights, a sleigh, and Santa Claus will be here,” Walsh said. “It’ll be the same thing. It will be a drive-thru.”

Danielle Bragg, left, and Darren Forkey stand with dozens of hot Thanksgiving meals to be given away Saturday to motorists at the Alfond Youth & Community Center on North Street in Waterville. Bragg and Forkey work full time at the center and volunteered with other staff to help with the effort. Amy Calder/ Morning Sentinel

About 30 staff from various departments greeted motorists Saturday, many of whom asked for extra meals to take home to their families or others.

Danielle Bragg, 35, who has a variety of jobs at the Alfond Center, including accounting assistant, payroll coordinator and assistant human resources person, was working alongside Forkey’s brother, Darren Forkey, 24, who is athletics assistant and mans the center’s desk in the mornings.

Bragg and Forkey helped to cook, cut the turkeys, bake rolls, slice pies and package the meals and said they love volunteering for the event. They said there is a definite need for the meals in the central Maine region.

“The need hits everyone,” Bragg said. “It doesn’t matter what you are coming from. The need is there and we’re glad we can help fill it.”

Forkey said the center had been receiving calls all week from people asking about the meal effort.

“We’re glad we can help — to make that difference,” he said.

The 30 or so volunteers who turned out Saturday work together at the center, so they are part of a cohort they felt could  volunteer safely in a group, according to Darren Forkey.

 

 


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.