Bill Caldwell speaks with a fellow guest during the 2018 Christmas dinner served at the South Parish Congregational Church in Augusta. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s meal has been replaced with curbside or at-home delivery. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal file

AUGUSTA — For this year’s Christmas dinner at South Parish Congregational Church, so many people offered to volunteer to help that organizer Carlene Kaler had to turn some folks down.

“You always wait till the day of and wonder if you will have enough,” she said. “But I feel like I will have too many.”

Volunteering on Christmas Day has always been popular, Kaler said, but she thought that with the coronavirus, people may be nervous to do so. She was left in her tracks — amazed — by the number of people, and new people, that have pledged their holiday to help others.

The Christmas dinner event looks different this year, as turkey dinners will be wrapped up and handed to cars curbside. Another 20 volunteers will take to their own cars to deliver meals to houses.

Kaler said couples typically volunteer together, and she does not make anyone go alone to deliver.

As of Wednesday, 188 people are scheduled to receive a meal directly to their home, although Kaler expects that number to rise before Christmas. Even though there is a pandemic, the number of sign-ups this year is still similar to the number of meals delivered last year.

This year the in-person dinner is unable to happen because of the coronavirus pandemic, so the church decided to offer the curbside delivery.

Kaler does not know how many people to expect and wonders if the weather forecast or the rise in coronavirus rates may impact the rate at which people come pick up their meals instead of having them delivered.

Fifteen to 20 volunteers are ready to tackle any number they receive for curbside, and Kaler said they prepare to have more than enough food and donate the rest to a food pantry in the area.

Last year, however, the church hosted around 200 guests at the sit-down dinner.

“I think that there is more of a need this year, and folks that normally may have spent time with families are not going to do that this year,” Kaler said. “There are a lot of folks that will be home alone and wouldn’t be able to prepare a big Christmas meal for one or two people, and I do think there is a need for nourishment out there.”

According to Kaler, the dinner is a popular event each year and has been going on for 40 years.

The church received donations for the food, including from NorthCenter Foods in Augusta. Additionally, community members donated pies and homemade desserts.

Kaler emphasized that it is truly a community effort, not just from South Parish Congregational Church.

“There are volunteers from South Parish (Congregational Church), the Jewish community, the Unitarian church, the community and some that do not have a church affiliation,” she said, adding that everyone is welcome.

To sign up, interested participants are to call the church at (207) 622-0552 with the number of people and their address if they would prefer a delivery. The cost is free and people will receive all the fixings of a turkey dinner, including dessert.

It will run from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Christmas Day.

The church is not offering a Christmas Eve mass this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, but will be livestreaming one from its Facebook page.


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