AUGUSTA — Paul and his wife, Joanie Rhoda, have been volunteering at the South Parish Congregational Church’s Christmas Day dinner since 1994 and even through the coronavirus pandemic, they weren’t planning on making this year the one that they missed.

Together, they said if they missed out on volunteering this year it would have felt like a “hole in their chest.”

“When we found out that they were still doing it this year, it was send the torpedoes full speed ahead, we are going to do it,” he said.

Half an hour before cars arrived for their curbside turkey dinner, the Rhodas loaded meals upon meals into their white minivan and dropped them off down the street to Chateau Cushnoc Associated Living and Care in Augusta. Delivery for the church’s meals are not new this year, and in the past, a meal would be hand delivered by volunteers to each doorstep.

“We just fell into doing it because we didn’t want a standard Christmas, we wanted to give back,” he said. “It’s to the point where the kids are disappointed if they are unable to participate.

The pair were two of around 40 volunteers that pledged their holiday to help serve and prepare meals at the South Parish Congregational Church. For many, the dinner has become part of their holiday tradition and offers an opportunity to give back to the community.

According to organizer Carlene Kaler, around 240 meals were being dropped off to folks that signed up. They received a couple slices of freshly baked turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and some cooked veggies. For dessert, community members donated homemade cookies and pies.

She thinks there may be less people this year that come to receive their meals because the event served as a socialization event for many — with the coronavirus pandemic, people are unable to gather at the church and socialize with the community.

Keith Priest arrived at 6 a.m. to help prepare the meals. He has done it for around 25 years and has seen nothing like this year’s event.

“This year is a lot different. Normally this room is full of tables with 150 people sitting down, for obvious reasons we were unable to do that,” Priest said. “We will see how it goes.”

After Priest cooked the veggies and turkey, the meals were then prepared by a team, including help from Tessa Jorgensen, 17, who along with her family have helped prepare meals for at least five years.

Kaler said that Jorgensen and her family have it “down to a system.”

She scooped peas on the plate before passing it down to her sister who added the carrots and her father who added the stuffing. Her family continues to volunteer each year as a way to give back and have fun with community members.

“We like being around people and knowing that you are helping people and giving them a good Christmas,” Jorgensen said. “It’s fun. When we have newbies, we help them learn the ropes and it’s fun having people that come here.”

Heidi Chadbourne, another volunteer who has participated in the event for around 20 years, said that it has become part of her holiday tradition.

Though this year is different with the new restrictions that they have had to be aware of, she welcomed the curbside visitors and yelled the number of meals needed per car. She had two volunteers helping bring the meals out, but she said it is a team effort.

“We have new restrictions that we have to be aware of,” she said. “My favorite part, through, is the comradery. This group is a good group to hang out with, and we josh each other from time to time if it allows, but we never have enough volunteers. Today is different, but as a rule, we are tired.”

Chadbourne welcomed curbside cars until 1 p.m., and up until then, the church received phone calls of wanting food deliveries.


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