AUGUSTA — Every year, Carlene Kaler wonders — at least briefly — if there will be enough volunteers to prepare, serve and deliver the hundreds of free Christmas dinners.

And every year, there are plenty of volunteers looking to help out with the long-running Christmas Day dinner, now hosted by South Parish Congregational Church at 9 Church St. in Augusta.

This year, there were so many volunteers that Kaler, coordinator of the meal, sent some of them home as a light snow began to fall.

About 20 drivers delivered about 225 meals in greater Augusta. Minutes after meals officially started being served at 11:30 a.m. Saturday, about 15 people preparing and serving meals had provided about 70 meals to people who stopped by to pick up their food.

All of the meals were delivered or taken away at curbside. The sit-down meal was scrapped last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with deliveries and curbside pickup taking its place.

Lauren Ross adds a ladleful of hot gravy to a Christmas dinner Saturday at South Parish Congregational Church at 9 Church St. in Augusta. Keith Edwards/Kennebec Journal

Lauren Ross of Waterville came to help with her husband and brother-in-law. They ladled hot gravy into aluminum to-go trays, passed to them by many members of the Jorgensen family of Augusta. It was an assembly line of volunteers dishing up meals for anyone who wanted them. The Christmas Day meal was served until 1 p.m.

“For me, as a Christian, the holiday is about giving. Our family is blessed to have plenty of food, so this is great to be able to do this,” Ross said, explaining why she chose to help with the meals instead of relaxing at home with her family. “Many hands make for light work.”

Ross said her family would gather for a Christmas celebration later in the day.

While Ross is a Christian, she said she is not a member of South Parish Congregational Church. Several other volunteers were also not South Parish members.

For years, the community meal was hosted by what is now Emmanuel Lutheran Episcopal Church. When Bridging the Gap services moved into that church, however, there was not enough room there to continue hosting the dinner, so the dinner was moved to South Parish Congregational Church.

Keith Priest, Lauren Ross and Amanda Jorgensen prepare free Christmas Day meals Saturday at South Parish Congregational Church at 9 Church St. in Augusta. Keith Edwards/Kennebec Journal

Kaler said its a community meal, not specific to one church, and people of all faiths chip in and help out, including several members of the local Jewish community, who delivered meals.

Kaler said no one considered canceling the dinner due to the worsening spread of COVID-19. She said the need for it is still there and great.

She said a core group of the volunteers is part of the Angel Food Network, which puts on free meals Saturdays in Augusta.

Mindy Jorgensen had three college-age daughters — Tessa, Amanda and Talia — working alongside her Saturday, continuing a family tradition of serving the meals on Christmas Day. She said she had no problem

getting her daughters to help.

“We just like to give back to the community,” Mindy Jorgensen said. “We don’t have family here, so this is kind of our thing.”

The meal’s main cook, Keith Priest, arrived at about 5:30 a.m. Saturday to get things rolling, Kaler said.

By noon, Priest said they had gone through 16 turkeys, three cases each of peas and carrots, eight cases of potatoes, 30 pounds of stuffing and 30 pounds of cranberry sauce.

After a day of serving turkey and fixings, members of the Jorgensen family said they planned to get together for their own dinner later Saturday, but not the same food they had been ladling or serving at South Parish Congregational Church.

Instead, they planned to have lasagna.


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.