Lily Diversi puts a can of green beans into a Thanksgiving food box Friday in the Little Theater at Gardiner Area High School. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

As the second pandemic Thanksgiving quickly approaches, some Augusta-area holiday traditions will continue, while others will not happen this year.

As always, the Gardiner-based Maine School Administrative District 11’s Thanksgiving Baskets will run this year and the Richmond Area Food Pantry will host a Thanksgiving meal Saturday, but other community staples, such as the Green Street United Methodist Church will not be hosting its annual Thanksgiving meal event this year.

Sophia Blanchard puts a can of green beans into a Thanksgiving food box Friday in the Little Theater at Gardiner Area High School. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Last year, the Green Street United Methodist Church was able to be creative and offer take out Thanksgiving meals. Because COVID-19 cases are the highest they have been in Kennebec County since the start of the pandemic, the program opted not to run this year. Volunteers would not be able to cook in the church’s kitchen in accordance with the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention guidelines.

“Our facility is not able to do a Thanksgiving dinner and follow CDC guidelines,” said Darby Rock. “It’s really sad. We have done it for 50 years, and it was (a) hard (decision).”

Following last year’s increase in numbers for the MSAD 11 Thanksgiving baskets, the Gardiner Area High School National Honor Society will give out about 200 food baskets again this year — 200 baskets last year was an all-time high for the program.

NHS co-advisor Rita Tran said they are preparing for 210 baskets, but as of Thursday, had not heard back from 25-40 people on the list. Tran is given a list from the Gardiner-area municipal officers and from MSAD 11 staff and administration of families or individuals who could use a basket.


Those who are eligible for a basket are mailed a bright orange paper they use to redeem the basket Friday or Monday afternoon at Gardiner Area High School. If they do not have the ability to pick up their basket, either Tran or students will deliver it to their house.

Each basket contains a turkey, canned goods and local produce. In some cases, extra items like peanut butter and jelly are added to ensure families and students are fed in the time off from school.

The items to fill the baskets are donated by local businesses and families. People are able to donate money as well, which goes to purchasing items still needed once the students put together the baskets.

Tran works alongside her “partner in crime,” Jennifer Boudreau, a fellow teacher and co-advisor to National Honor Society, along with the 30 to 40 students in the program to put together the baskets. They do so on the Friday afternoon before Thanksgiving.

“They (the students) have been great,” Tran said. “They do whatever I can get them to do. They are not big on calling on the phone, but have done it, and help deliver meals. I have a group of boys in third period put the baskets together.”

It’s the first year since the start of the pandemic that all students have the opportunity to put the together baskets without being split into cohorts.


Tran said last year, her and the team heard of a woman who just moved to the area and had no one to spend the holiday with. They brought her a basket and the woman was “overjoyed and crying.”

“It’s good for the soul for those of us who are fortunate enough to provide for a family, to feel like we are doing something,” Tran said. “Especially now with all that’s going on with COVID-19 and numbers going up. It’s a bright spot, definitely.”

For those outside of the Gardiner-area, the Richmond Area Food Pantry will be giving out holiday-themed meals Saturday morning from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.

The food pantry is usually open during that time, but will give out 20-pound turkeys to some families. People who do not have large families will receive a portion of turkey or a gift card to the supermarket.

It’s available to “anyone who feels they are in need,” said the pantry’s co-director, Lauren Haven.

Jars of turkey gravy sit on the stage Friday before being loaded into Thanksgiving food boxes in the Little Theater at Gardiner Area High School. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The pantry runs on donations from local businesses and residents of Richmond and Dresden, and it is always looking for the “best way to buy food.” Each town has a donation box at the respected post offices and donation slots around town to drop off money donations. Haven said checks can be mailed to P.O. Box 74 in Richmond.

Haven said people are encouraged on Saturday to go to the pantry to get what they need before they shop for the holiday. She said in addition to turkey, the pantry has canned goods and fresh produce.

On Saturday, the pantry expects to serve 50 to 60 families, which is on par with the amount the pantry would usually see when its open two times a month.

“We are ready to serve as many folks as needed,” Haven said. “We are trying to get them to come.”

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