John Brigance and Angela Smith, will continue their tradition of serving free Thanksgiving dinner on Thanksgiving Day to anyone in need. However, the meals will be distributed by either take-out or delivery due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nathan Strout / The Times Record file photo

BATH — Bath restaurant Midcoast Pizza and More is continuing its tradition of providing free Thanksgiving dinner on Thanksgiving Day to anyone in need, but some changes have been made due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year, the meals will be distributed by either pick-up or delivery rather than offering in-house dining. Anyone is welcome to sign up to receive a meal by calling the restaurant at (207) 443-6631. Meals will be distributed from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.

So far, the restaurant has received over 250 orders for delivery and pick up, according to John Brigance, co-owner of the eatery on Washington Street.

Brigance adopted the tradition of providing free Thanksgiving meals from the restaurant’s previous owner, Nick Papadopoulos, after he took over the business with his wife, Angela Smith, in April 2017. He said serving the meal each year has become a tradition for his family, who volunteer.

While he’s excited about being able to provide a hot meal to those in need, he’s disappointed patrons won’t be able to dine together in the restaurant due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“The socializing was the fun part, but this will be the next best thing,” said Brigance. “It’s the best we can do under these circumstances and at least we’ll still have food for everyone.”

Last year, Brigance and his family cooked 19 turkeys and served about 400 people. This year, Brigance anticipates more people may need a Thanksgiving meal, and said he’s ready to meet that demand.

“There are a lot of people this year who might normally travel to families who can’t this year because of the pandemic,” said Brigance. “They might not want to make a big Thanksgiving dinner for just them, or they might not have anywhere to go. We don’t want people popping a burrito in the microwave on Thanksgiving.”

This year, Brigance plans to cook 25 turkeys, which were donated by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7738, based in Phippsburg.

Brigance said preparing the meals, along with five gallons of gravy, is a three-day process, but he’s happy to do it.

“You can do a lot with a pizza oven besides just cook pizzas,” he said.

Frederick Libby Jr., Commander of Veterans of VFW Post 7738, said the post donated turkeys plus $300 for vegetables because he can’t bear to see anyone go hungry, especially on Thanksgiving.

“These are tight times and people need to be able to eat,” said Libby. “The VFW is about taking care of the people in the community. Any military member will tell you we never stop serving the community.”

Beyond filling stomachs, Thanksgiving Day is known as a time to be with loved ones, but the COVID-19 pandemic has botched many people’s travel and gathering plans. While it may not seem like much, not getting together with family and friends can lead to loneliness and isolation, said Meredith Anderson, program manager at Southern Maine Agency on Aging.

“Holidays can be a difficult time for some people, even in the best of times,” said Andersen. “You might not be able to travel this year, and that may feel like a big loss to people.”

Although the COVID-19 has presented obstacles, Greg Marley, director of suicide prevention at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Maine, said this year serves as an opportunity to be creative and make new traditions with loved ones, even if you can’t be physically together, said

“This is going to be a challenging time for all of us, but how can we bring innovation to this?” said Marley. “We can always get stuck in blame and loss, or we can focus on what we can do to make the holiday special. If Thanksgiving is about watching football with family, can that happen over Zoom? If Thanksgiving is about the food, can you share family recipes?”

Marley said rates of depression, anxiety and suicide often fall during “times of societal upheaval” such as World War II and The Great Depression. He said this is because “people pull together” and he sees the same opportunity here, and one example is Midcoast Pizza and More adapting their Thanksgiving Day tradition.

“Celebrate the ingenuity of people doing what they can,” he said. “There’s a good chance that we’ll all look back on this time with pride.”


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