LEWISTON — On the bitter-cold, wind-swept streets of Lewiston on Thursday, Brindie Gaul and her family discovered a new Thanksgiving Day tradition.

Along with her husband and three children, Gaul delivered meals from Hope Haven Gospel Mission to those who couldn’t get out for the holiday.

“Everybody was smiling and happy to see us,” said Gaul, of West Paris. “The people were amazing. We’ve all decided that this is going to be our Thanksgiving tradition from now on.”

As the Hope Haven chef cooked up 24 turkeys and volunteers served up hot meals at the Lewiston shelter, a small army of people took to the streets to feed those who were stuck at home.

“We did this last year and we wanted to do it again,” said Bethany Gile, who both served and delivered meals with her husband and children, 12 and 14 years old. “We think it’s good for the community to help out people who are in need and it’s good for the kids.”

Around noon, Gile and her family shuffled out into the cold with nine meals to be delivered to elderly folks at the Roak Block in Auburn.

“They were happy to see us,” said Gaul, of Auburn. “They were very thankful.”

For many of the volunteers, the Hope Haven effort was a family affair. Several parents said they like to help, but they were also eager for their children to see the benefits of people banding together to help strangers in need.

“I wanted them to be a little more appreciative of the things they have,” said Gaul, whose children are 9, 10 and 17. “I think they definitely got that out of this experience. The kids are actually loving this. They’re already planning to do it again on Christmas.”

Jen Conlogue of Auburn went out on deliveries with her 14-year-old son Alex Berry. It wasn’t a matter of just dropping off packages fast-food-style, Conlogue said. On one delivery, the pair stayed and visited with a woman who was otherwise alone for the holiday.

“She and my son had a nice conversation and we hung out for a while,” Conlogue said. “She looked like she probably didn’t have a whole lot, so she was happy to see us.”

Like others, Conlogue believes it’s important that her son see the joy of giving in a time when people are not always at their most charitable.

“He’s got a good heart,” she said of her son. “We hope to keep it that way and hopefully this will help.”

Rick Jensen, a volunteer who runs the Thanksgiving Day delivery effort, said some of the people who turn out to help have at one time or another been on the other side of the serving line. These are formerly homeless men and women who haven’t forgotten who helped them to get back on their feet.

“I’ve had people introduce themselves and say, ‘I lived here for a couple years as a teenager and you really helped me out. Now I’m here because I want my kids to know that this can happen to anyone,'” Jensen said. “I think it’s important for all of us to remember where we’re from. We all need to be humbled at some time in our lives. A lot of times, with that dose of humility comes gratitude.”

Jensen is quick to credit his volunteers for their selfless work and that includes people behind the scenes — a lot of people who come out to help, he said, are only able to do so because they have someone else taking care of things at home.

“It’s a team effort,” he said. “Definitely.”

Jensen also stressed the importance of those volunteers who spend a little time with the strangers to whom they are delivering food. It’s not just hunger they’re combating, Jensen says. In some cases it’s loneliness and a sense of isolation.

“You’re not just delivering meals,” Jensen said. “You’re delivering dignity to people. You’re letting them know that they matter.”

Hope Haven chef Arnaldo Crus said prep work for the meal started Sunday. By Thursday, in addition to the food served at the Lincoln Street mission, 136 meals were prepared to go and placed into the hands of the volunteers.

The yearly Thanksgiving program is a volunteer effort through and through, organizers say. This year, countless people donated food and other items for the effort, and for similar efforts beyond Thanksgiving.

On Wednesday, a pair of young men from the St. Dominic Academy Honor Society donated five massive apple pies for the Thursday feasts. The Lewiston Fire Department delivered several turkeys to the mission while businesses donated money and nonperishable food.

And it wasn’t just a Lewiston-Auburn affair. People came from a variety of cities and towns to help on Thanksgiving at Hope Haven.

Erica Williams, her husband and three children came from Turner to pitch it. Jackie Flynn, her husband and three kids came from Gardiner. Kids of all ages were out in force alongside their parents, learning that Thanksgiving is about more than staying at home and eating until they couldn’t eat any more.

And on it went throughout the day Thursday until bellies were full and all of the packaged meals had been sent out for delivery.

When the work at Hope Haven was done, the Gaul family still had leftover feelings of giving, so they kept on plugging away.

At about 4 p.m., when so many others were kicking back after gut-busting turkey meals, the family was still out in the cold, delivering leftover pies to police, fire and rescue crews who were working on the holiday.

“They were like, ‘Oh, my gosh. Thank you!'” Gaul said. “The kids are thrilled.”

Gerald Parlin, right, Brindie Gaul and their sons Carson Bailey, Jackson Parlin and Owen Gaul wait for the Thanksgiving meals that they will deliver to people who were not able to attend the Hope Haven Gospel Mission dinner in Lewiston on Thursday. The West Paris family helped deliver 136 meals. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Gerald Parlin, center, Brindie Gaul and their sons Owen Gaul, Jackson Parlin and Carson Bailey wait for the Thanksgiving meals that they will deliver to people who were not able to attend the Hope Haven Gospel Mission dinner in Lewiston on Thursday. The West Paris family helped deliver 136 meals. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Alex Berry, 14, of Auburn and his mother, Jen Conlogue, pick up to-go Thanksgiving meals at Hope Haven Gospel Mission in Lewiston on Thursday. Berry, a freshman at Edward Little High School, helped deliver 136 meals. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Erica Williams, center, of Turner and her children, Brayden, 12, Nate, 14, and Allena Sullivan, 15, wait to pick up to-go Thanksgiving meals at Hope Haven Gospel Mission in Lewiston on Thursday. The Williams family, including dad, is one of several families that volunteered to deliver Thanksgiving meals. Jen Conlogue, left, and her son, Alex Berry, 14, of Auburn, also volunteered. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

TJ Kramarz, 12, of Auburn helps serve Thanksgiving meals at Hope Haven Gospel Mission in Lewiston on Thursday. The sixth-grader at Fairview Elementary School volunteered with his mother, Bethany, father, Jon, and sister, Emily, 16. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Volunteer coordinator Rick Jensen, far right, gives directions to volunteers before they head out to deliver to-go meals on Thursday. Jensen said he was thrilled to see so many young volunteers. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Nate Williams, 14, of Turner carries to-go Thanksgiving meals out of Hope Haven Gospel Mission in Lewiston on Thursday. Williams and his family helped deliver 136 to-go Thanksgiving meals. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Ashlyn Flynn, 11, of Gardiner talks with her brother, Davyn, 12, while her family waits to pick up Thanksgiving meals that they will deliver to people who were not able to attend the Hope Haven Gospel Mission in Lewiston on Thursday. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)


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