GARDINER — For sisters Lucy Mathews and Carolyn Olson, the Thanksgiving dinner served Thursday at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Kennebec Valley was the perfect solution.
Mathews, 74, was scheduled to work at the Alzheimer’s Care Center in the afternoon, and Olson, 77, who moved back to Maine earlier this year from Florida, didn’t have plans with family for the holiday.
So when they learned about the dinner put on by the Scottish Rite Masons of Augusta Valley, they crossed the Kennebec River from Randolph at midday and sat down to the turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, squash, peas and cranberry sauce that two dozen volunteers had been working to prepare.
For decades, the Masons have been making and serving a Thanksgiving dinner in Gardiner, and providing delivery service to those who need it.
They don’t do it for the attention or for the thanks; they do it because it’s part of their community outreach.
“Seeing people come in who need this, I don’t think we need to sell it any harder than that,” Don Pratt, deputy grand master of the Grand Lodge of Maine, said. While he has organized the dinner in the past, he wasn’t able to this year.
Instead, Ed Brownell of China was in charge of organizing the Thanksgiving dinner for the Scottish Rite Masons. That meant he was in charge of planning the event, and buying and storing all the ingredients for the dinner, including 20 turkeys.
This year, he said, he and his wife had considered upgrading their chest freezer and were able to use the old one to store the frozen birds. The other ingredients were stashed in a spare bedroom.
“I don’t have the good connections to buy the quantities that I needed,” Brownell said. “I made several trips to Walmart buying frozen peas. I went to the Waterville Walmart to get some; then I went to the Augusta Walmart and got some more; and then I made a second trip to the Waterville Walmart.”
He said he knew about what he needed, but he didn’t feel comfortable cleaning the store’s supply of frozen peas all at once. He’d gauge how much they had and then take half.
This year’s meal was the first after a two-year break driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, and there was some discussion about how much food to buy and how many people might come.
To spread the word, Brownell was on the road for two weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, leaving information at food pantries and anywhere else he thought the information would spread.
“We started out with the budget we had 2019, and we didn’t even spend all that (then),” he said. “This year, I overspent that.”
In 2019, the Masons and their volunteers delivered 275 meals, but on Thursday, only 68 meals were delivered. And while the flow of people, like Mathews and Olson, who stopped by for a meal was steady, it was also less than in the years before the pandemic.
Brownell has plans for the leftovers. The volunteers and cooks prepared half of the 200 pounds of potatoes and 200 pounds of squash, so the uncooked vegetables will go food pantries, along with cans of cranberry sauce and the frozen turkeys.
Of the 20 turkeys purchased, they cooked 16, which was still more than they needed. Once serving Thursday was done, Brownell said volunteers would make up meals that he planned to take to the food pantry in China, where he lives, to be distributed Friday.
By midday Thursday, the meals to be delivered were mostly en route to their destinations, and the trickle of people who had come to share a meal had slowed.
Both Mathews and Olson, who were contemplating whether they wanted a slice of pie, said they’d come back to the Masons’ dinner next Thankgiving.
“If I’m not working, I’d come over to volunteer,” Mathews said. “I wouldn’t mind doing something like that.”