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Putting Turkeys on Empty Tables: Mainers Pull Together
11/27/2013   Reported By: Tom Porter

While many of us have spent this week making our own Thanksgiving day meal preparations, volunteers across the state have been busy putting together food packages for families and individuals in need. Tom Porter visited a shelter program in York County, where local people are pulling together to ensure that hundreds of their needy neighbors can enjoy a holiday meal - and then some.

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Volunteers at York County Shelter Programs in Alfred fill hundreds of food baskets destined for needy Mainers.

In an old Shaker barn near Alfred, about 40 volunteers are putting food into boxes and setting them on a table at one end. But the boxes don't stay there for long.

About 1,700 Thanksgiving food baskets are being distributed this season by York County Shelter Programs. That's a record number for the non-profit, and none of it would be possible without the help of folks like Glen Richard, who heard about the program through the motorcycle club he belongs to.

He's been volunteering about four hours of his time every morning this week - packing up donated food into boxes and handing them out.

"I think it's a great thing to do," Richard says. "Always wanted to do it, never heard about it. I bring my son down, hopefully, teach him a valuable lesson about everybody who's less fortunate than us, you know. So it's a good thing to do."

"We're doing the food giveaway for Thanksgiving," says Martha Huestis. "Monday we gave out 915 food boxes, and yesterday another 400, and today we're still doing it - it should be over a few hundred today."

Huestis is food services director at York County Shelter Programs, which has now been operating for 30 years. The food parcels, she explains, contain all the ingredients for a turkey dinner, plus a little extra.

"Turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, fruit, vegetables - several cans of vegetables - fresh produce, whatever we have - beets, apples, potatoes. And we try to give everybody a meal or two for other days, so some ravioli, or pasta with tomato sauce, things like that."

"This is always, like, the funnest day of the year right before Thanksgiving, you know everybody's in a good mood and everybody's working hard," says Donald Gean, the executive director of York County Shelter Programs. "Some of the peolpe who come here might have had enough to buy the food that's in the box. But in coming here, and us providing that, they may be able to use that money to buy their medications and pay the rent. But they don't have enough to do all three."

Feeding those in need, of course, is not just about providing food during the holidays, and Gean says the organization feeds more than 24,000 people throughout the year.

On a typical day, the shelter's food pantry hands out nearly 70 boxes, enough to feed about 200 people - that's on top of the two soup kitchens it operates in Sanford and Springvale.

Photos: Tom Porter


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