Little George Harris devoured the baked ham, au gratin potatoes and oven roasted brussels sprouts that lay on his plate, all the while smiling and declaring how delicious everything was.

“It’s yummy,” he said.

George, 4, his sister, Ash Nickerson, 13, and their mother, Tammy Harris, 36, were enjoying the first hot lunch served at Stone Soup Cafe, located at the Winslow Congregational Church, United Church of Christ. Harris was happy her son was so enthusiastic about the food.

“The fact that he’s eating it says something, because he’s really picky,” she said.

The aroma of glazed ham wafted through the small dining room Monday as about 25 people of all ages socialized at tables sporting new black-and-white checkered tablecloths and vases of flowers.

The new, free, sit-down, hot meals program is operated by Starfish Village, a ministry of the Waterville First Congregational, UCC, and is being offered from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays. Starfish is hosting it in collaboration with the Winslow Community Cupboard, a food pantry and ministry of the Winslow church at 12 Lithgow St.

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The meals program has been a dream of Starfish’s founder, the Rev. Maureen Ausbrook, since Sacred Heart Soup Kitchen in Waterville closed in 2020. She was thrilled the Winslow church and food cupboard offered her the space.

“They invited me out here and I said, ‘You bet,’ ” Ausbrook said.

Ausbrook had just baked five hams in the church kitchen, as well as other fare, including baked beans and dinner rolls.

Alison Small and daughter Elora, 3, of Waterville, share a tender moment Monday while dining at the Stone Soup Cafe at the Winslow Congregational Church, United Church of Christ. Volunteers served baked ham, au gratin potatoes and other foods on the cafe’s opening day. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

“An important thing is that the community food cupboard is open the second and fourth Thursday of the month and about 30% of the people who come are from Waterville,” she said. “On the second and fourth Wednesday, they box and deliver food and about 100 boxes go to folks in Waterville.”

For Ausbrook, whose ministry also helps people find stable housing in a difficult market, the meals program is a bright spot that reaps immediate results.

“It’s very hard right now to help people with housing because there is no housing,” she said. “It’s just very challenging. Here, people come in, they’re hungry, we can feed them and it’s gratifying. This is a problem that is more easily solved than homelessness. This is needed, and it’s addressing food insecurity and hunger. A lot of people have stepped up to help. I couldn’t do this without them.”

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Anyone wanting to volunteer or donate to the effort may email [email protected]

The Rev. Nancy Findlan, who is assistant director at Starfish Village, joined Nancy Sanford, Sally Melcher-McKeagney and Jackie Kulik — all members of its advisory board — in greeting diners Monday. Also volunteering were the Rev. Ian Lynch of Waterville First Congregational, UCC, and sisters Judy Donovan and Angela Fortier of the Sisters of St. Joseph.

Over at Tammy Harris’ table, her best friend, Eve Sweetland, 36, and Sweetland’s son, Gabriel, 9, were enjoying the meal and company.

“They’ve been amazing,” Sweetland said of their hosts. “It’s delicious.”

A single mother, Harris said it is important to have a hot meals program like this when times are hard so that people know they’re part of a community.

“It’s been rough for myself and my children for a little while now,” she said. “We live month-to-month and penny-to-penny, so it gets thin sometimes. To be able to bring them down here at lunchtime and get something warm into their belly when sometimes I can only cook a breakfast and a dinner — it’s a relief.”

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She encouraged others to visit the cafe and experience its warmth.

“It just brings out the community and it shows that there’s still good in the world,” she said.

“And there are good people.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 34 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

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