Several hundred fed at St. Mary’s free holiday dinner

Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli, Special to The County
1 year ago

HOULTON, Maine — A traditional holiday menu of turkey, gravy, potatoes, squash, cranberries and pie was waiting for more than 200 expectant diners. 

They began lining up at St. Mary of the Visitation Catholic Church in Houlton on Thursday, long before the meal’s slated 11:30 a.m. start. 

“Some will be here as early as 10 a.m.,” said Deacon Al Burleigh, the day before the holiday dinner. “We have 14 turkeys cooked.”

Food insecurity is a growing problem in Aroostook County with more than 16 percent of adults and 23.3 percent of children at risk of going to bed hungry. And more than 23,000 residents suffering from chronic, daily hunger depend on Catholic Charities each year for food through the 24 pantries served by the Food Bank. 

Still, despite 14 turkeys and hundreds of pounds of fixings, only a small container of sliced turkey remained by 1 p.m.  

“We ran out,” said Dave Grant, a St. Mary’s parishioner who has been volunteering to help with the dinner for the past 15 years. “Last year we had so much left over.”

About 200 were served in the church hall on Military Street while others picked up meals for neighbors. 

“Some people live in apartment buildings, and they come in and ask if they can have seven or eight meals for their neighbors,” said Deacon Burleigh. “We get so many beautiful thank you notes.”

Additionally, volunteers took meals to area shut-ins, said Father Kevin Martin, St. Mary’s pastor. Father Martin delivered Thanksgiving dinner to a local woman and her son who has a disability. 

“They needed food. Without the meals, they would not have eaten today,” Father Martin said. 

At St. Mary’s food pantry — one of Catholic Charities 24, is open every Tuesday and Thursday morning — there has been an increase in older people seeking food as costs for heating fuel, medications and groceries continue to rise, Deacon Burleigh said. 

That’s why St. Mary’s free holiday meal that’s been a part of the community holiday season for nearly 25 years means so much to area residents who may not have had enough food for the holiday. 

Many also come for the company and an opportunity to socialize with others.

“Some want the company,” said Father Martin, who was able to share his afternoon meal at the church with his mother Dolores Martin from Caribou. 

“We need each other, and it gives us a sense of belonging,” he said. The support makes us feel good.”

Several local farms and businesses contributed to the annual free holiday meal, including potatoes from Fitzpatrick Family Farms in Houlton, squash from Nature’s Circle Farm and Andy’s IGA cooked all the turkeys, Grant said. 

“I just love it!” said Stephanie Larson, who volunteered to help serve Thursday’s dinner guests. “It’s great, I get to see so many people.”

HOULTON, Maine — November 24, 2022 — Robert Monahan, who has been volunteering at the St. Mary’s Free Thanksgiving Dinner for six years, serves up some of the last bits of turkey during Thurday’s dinner at the church in Houlton. (Photo courtesy of Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli)

HOULTON, Maine — November 24, 2022 — Father Kevin Martin (left) pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Houlton enjoys a holiday meal during the annual free Thanksgiving Dinner at the church with his mother Dolores Martin of Caribou across the table, St. Mary’s Catholic Church administrative assistant Melissa Pelletier Berube and Ann Marie McClure, a family friend from Lubec (not pictured). (Photo courtesy of Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli)

HOULTON, Maine — November 24, 2022 — Several hundred local residents enjoyed a lush Thanksgiving Dinner at St. Mary of the Visitation Catholic Church on Thursday in Houlton. (Photo courtesy of Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli)