NORWAY — This weekend, the Oxford Hills Area Association of Churches is celebrating its 25th year of sponsoring free weekly lunches to local residents.
All who have volunteered or participated in the Norway Community Free Lunch are invited to the celebration from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, April 30, at the First Universalist Church, 479 Main St., the weekly lunch site. Cake, ice cream and punch will be served.
Last year, volunteers fed 4,523 people from Oxford Hills and beyond. The cost was $1,279, according to a news release from association President Rosalie Ketchum and Treasurer Faylene McKeen.
Lunches are served every Wednesday at 11:30 a.m., except when School Administrative District 17 cancels classes for inclement weather. There are no income requirements or any forms to fill out. While it is a free meal, donations are accepted to support the program.
On average 100 people are served each week.
McKeen got involved with the program three years ago when longtime volunteer Lee Millett wanted to stop being treasurer.
“It was the biggest eye-opener I’ve had in a lot of time,” McKeen said. “The first time I went there (I saw) the amount of people who need this service in this area.”
The food mostly comes from Hannaford, Good Shepherd Food Bank and Wal-Mart. In addition to the meals, all 12 tables get a fruit salad and a vegetable salad, along with bread. Drinks include water, milk, coffee and grape juice, and dessert is from Hannaford’s bakery.
“You never know what you’re going to get — that’s the part that amazes me,” McKeen said.
Participants can take home leftover food.
In 1992, members of local churches formed the association of churches and decided to create a feeding program for those in need.
Millett, 89, was there from the beginning, stopping only after a heart attack and urging from his children, he said.
He picked up food, cleaned, peeled potatoes and went to the dump.
He also incorporated local farmers. Pig farmers come each week for scraps, and vegetable farmers drop off produce during warm weather.
“They never told me who they were or that they wanted anything for it,” Millett said. “I asked, ‘How much do we owe ya?’ ‘That’s a gift,’ they replied.”
None of this would be possible without the volunteers, McKeen acknowledged.
“It is an amazing bunch of people,” she said. “We have some people who come in early in the morning and do the prepping.”
Leo Cardin and his wife, Linda, became involved roughly 18 years ago. He picks up food Monday through Wednesday for the community lunch and the Oxford Hills Food Pantry at the Christ Episcopal Church in Norway.
“It not only helps the community; it keeps us involved in the community,” Linda Cardin said. “It makes us feel good. You get to know the people and you care about them.”
Lisa Jones of Norway has been with the program since day one, serving as one of the four volunteer cooks.
“I did a lot of lasagna,” Jones said. “It takes three days to prepare when you have to think (of cooking for) upward of 100 people. I have to brown up 40 pounds of hamburger. This winter I’ve been doing meatloaf. I did 50 pounds of meatloaf two weeks ago.”
President Ketchum is a member of the wait staff and cleanup crew.
“I enjoy seeing people come and have their lunch, but it’s more than that,” she said. “They have a social time, they want to sit together, they want to chat together. We also have a number of people come from the Progress Center and group homes (and) other places and that’s good. It’s a social outlet for them.”
Donations, volunteers sought
Oxford Hills Area Association of Churches is seeking donations to help offset the cost of the weekly Wednesday lunches. While all of the food is donated, the association pays for paper products. Any business, organization, or person interested in helping may contact Faylene McKeen at 743-6062.
Additional volunteers are also welcome.
Volunteers at the Norway Community Free Lunch program prepare plates of food for the weekly Wednesday meals. A celebration of the program’s 25th anniversary will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, April 30, at the Universalist Church of Norway. Program participants and volunteers are invited to attend.