NORWAY — Doors opened at St. Catherine of Sienna Catholic Church on Thursday for a community Thanksgiving meal.
People filed in as volunteers from St. Catherine and Christ Episcopal Church across Main Street scurried to prepare the meals.
Rosalie Ketchum of Norway figures she has been assisting with the dinner for the past seven or eight years. The dinner, which was started 35 years ago by parishioner Joan Markey in her home, has been held in the church for the past 20 years.
Ketchum said volunteers started coming in around 8:30 a.m. to set up for the noon meal of turkey, cranberry sauce, squash, potatoes and gravy, lots of gravy.
According to Ketchum, they usually serve a full room, including takeout meals for those who couldn't make the trip into town. This year, 11 meals will be delivered.
"Then we have a pie room," Ketchum said, pointing to a room off the hall where about 26 pies were being sliced, put on plates and topped with homemade whipped cream.
On the other side of the kitchen was a carving room where four volunteers dismantled turkeys. Plastic sheeting covered the carpeted floor below, thanks to a hard lesson learned during a previous Thanksgiving, Ketchum said.
In the main kitchen, cook Bruce Perham of South Paris orchestrated all the elements of the meal. He has been cooking Thanksgiving dinner at St. Catherine's for 15 years.
Perham said he cooked about nine turkeys. That's about 180 pounds of bird to wrangle for the annual feast. To fit it all in with the kitchen's capabilities, Perham said he starts work at 2 a.m.
With one round of birds in the oven, Perham steals a little sleep between oven rotations, setting two alarms to make sure he's on his game.
At the front of the hall, Peter Bickford of South Paris greeted guests of all ages as they made their way in, directing them toward the back tables "because they will be served first."
"My wife and I have never done this before," Bickford said. "It's always good to be with people on Thanksgiving Day, to be able to help in some way. You don't want people to be alone on Thanksgiving."
Bickford remarked on what "a great community" they have in Norway and South Paris. He said the two churches have been working together since the 1970s.
Awaiting their meal, Si Parlin and his wife, Terry, chatted with those around them. Si said the couple moved to Norway from Richmond last April, making this their first community Thanksgiving at St. Catherine.
After a brief word from Perham and a moment of silent prayer, platters of turkey started leaving the carving room destined for tables. Side dishes likewise left the kitchen and were set for people to dine family-style.
By noon, the room was three-quarters full with people still arriving, couples, families and individuals.
Side dishes set, gravy bearers quickly made the rounds with large serving pitchers. Volunteers continued to circle the room, making sure glasses and plates were full and asking guests if there was anything they could do for them.
Tyler Swanbeck, 14, came with his father and brother to volunteer. Swanbeck never stopped moving unless it was to refill a water pitcher or pick up dishes.
Zoe Leino, a volunteer who made the whipped cream for dessert, also made the rounds repeatedly. Valedictorian of Poland Regional High School Class of 2013 and current Boston College biology and pre-med major, Leino said she's been helping with the dinner for six years.
"It's kind of a family thing," Leino said. She and her mother and grandmother help every year before darting away to set pies on the dessert table.
Anne Toepker of South Paris, who has been a volunteer since 2006, said, "We were a little concerned" with slightly low attendance as noon drew near, but then were pleased to see the room quickly fill up.
In the kitchen, foam containers were piled high for those who could not make the trip. Still others requested to take food home for family members unable to attend. In addition to the delivered meals and those taken away, nearly all of the 112 places set were served.
By 12:15 p.m. the room was almost at capacity. The Rev. Samuel Madza, who ministers at St. Catherine, entered the kitchen. With a big smile and a hug for one of the volunteers, he exclaimed, "This is serious!"