Amanda and Aaron Oullette of Daddy O’s accept a $550 donation for their Friday lunch give-away from KBS Builder’s of South Paris. The donation was made in the memory of Bobby Gammon, who worked at all of Oxford’s manufactured home companies until his death in a 1998 accident. Pictured L-R: Amanda Oullette, Aaron Oulette, Elaine Gammon, Diana Parsons, Rikki Parsons. Jon Bolduc / Advertiser Democrat

OXFORD — Quarantine fatigue and discontent is spreading across Maine and the country as businesses and the public struggle to find balance between caution and economic need. But in Oxford Hills communities a circular spirit of support continues, and nowhere is it more evident than at the Oxford Plaza every Friday as cars flow in to pick up free meals provided by Daddy O’s and sponsored by a growing number of individuals, civic organizations and businesses.

That momentum of kindness reached new heights last week, as a family buoyed by the community 17 years ago following a tragic loss found a new way to pay forward their appreciation.

Like many quilters, Elaine Gammon found herself helping out during COVID-19 by making masks for family and friends. To date she has made more than 300 and she says that she has barely scratched the surface of her fabric stash.

When a request came from KBS Builders in South Paris for masks to give their workers, Gammon quickly got to work and sent them 100. Gammon received a card from the company along with $200 to thank her for her contribution.

“She returned the money to us,” said Diana Parsons, KBS Builders’ human resources manager. “She said that the area’s modular home businesses had been there for her family years ago when her husband Bobby lost his life in an accident while working at Oxford Homes. Instead, she asked that we use the $200 to pay it forward, in memory of her husband.

“KBS Builders decided the best way to pay it forward would be to donate the money to Daddy O’s, which has been making meals every Friday and handing them out to anyone who needs them at no cost. What a wonderful thing!”

Gammon could not have been more pleased by the choice. She knows what it’s like when locals come together to support their neighbors, as her family was helped back in 1998 when her husband died.

Elaine Gammon (l) and Bobby Gammon (r) in a 1993 photograph. Supplied photo

“Bobby was working at Oxford Homes when he died,” she explained, the rawness of the loss still evident in her voice. “It was the week before Christmas, and in those days we were all living paycheck to paycheck. He had worked at all the modular home factories over the years, Oxford, Burlington and Keiser. Employees of all three places put together a collection. And the companies pitched in too. By Christmas time my family had $3,000 to help us get through.

“It was before KBS’ time, but many of the same people work there now and they have already been there for us. I wanted this money to go help others in need.”

The money volley between Gammon, KBS and Daddy O’s did not stop with $200. Parsons posted a note with an envelope in KBS’ cafeteria, explaining that the company would donate the mask money to Daddy O’s in Bobby Gammon’s name and any employee who wished to contribute could add what they were able.

KBS had temporarily closed its South Paris manufacturing operation back in March when social distancing restrictions were first enacted and remained closed for five weeks. Each employee had a mask supplied by Gammon waiting when they all reported back to work on April 27. And despite having their own livelihoods interrupted by COVID-19, many pitched in to donate in their late friend’s name. Within 24 hours the amount was well over $300 and by Friday Parsons had $550 to deliver to Daddy-O’s, courtesy of KBS and its workforce.

Daddy O’s owners Aaron and Amanda Oullette were thrilled to receive the $550 on Friday, amidst a pouring rain that did not stop 65 vehicles from circling through the parking lot within a 20-minute rush to pick up more than 200 meals.

The Oullettes began the Daddy O’s Friday lunch giveaway on April 3 with financial help from the First Congregational Church in South Paris and a plan to distribute 100 meals a week for five weeks. But every week the number handed out was 200 or more.

With the Oullettes on a shoestring themselves since losing their sit-down and catering business at the start of the COVID-19 restrictions and laying off most of their staff, they feared their meal-support project might not make it through the entire five weeks.

Sklp Mowatt of Paris Masonic Lodge #94 oversees volunteers directing traffic last Friday at Daddy O’s lunch giveaway. The Masonic Lodge donated $1,500 to help keep the lunch program going into May.

But the community is used to seeing the Oullettes give back. As word spread about the free meals other benefactors began to contribute. Paris Masonic Lodge #94 donated $1,500 to Daddy-O’s and sent volunteers to help direct traffic through the parking lot starting on April 24.

“We have had individuals give too, from all over,” said Aaron Oullette on May 1 following the lunch rush. “Locally, we had an anonymous donation of $500 from an Oxford resident. We just got a $100 check from someone in New Jersey who heard about it. Checks have come from as far away as Ohio.”

But back to Gammon, who donated 100 masks to help keep her late husband’s co-workers and extended work family safe. She was touched that her pay-it-forward request had almost tripled within just a few days. She met the Oullettes at Daddy O’s on Friday when Diana Parsons and daughter Rikki Parsons (also of KBS) presented them with the $550 donation.

“I went home and told my kids’ about it,” Gammon said. “They wanted to see it be an even amount. They sent me back out to the ATM to get another $450 so that the donation in their father’s name would be an even $1,000.”

Gammon did just that, venturing back out in the rain at her family’s insistence to deliver the rest of the donation, now five times larger than the thank you gesture KBS had sent her.

The Oullettes are humbled by the outpouring of support their mission to feed their neighbors has inspired. They say they have collected enough to keep doing Friday lunches for at least another three weeks.

Tammy Jacobs, the sister of Daddy O’s Diner co-owner Aaron Ouellette, wears a dinosaur costume as she greets cars pulling into Oxford Plaza on Friday. Both Jacobs and the T-rex wore their masks.

“We so appreciate everything,” Aaron Oullette said. “We want to help the community, and the community is helping us keep our restaurant afloat. The Masons have been wonderful, coming out to work the parking lot in the rain. Every week Darren Bantz, pastor of the Advent Christian Church, has come to help us.”

“With these donations from the last week, we’ve collected enough to prepare another 578 meals,” added Amanda Oullette.

More than 180 of those meals will be possible because Elaine Gammon did not wish to accept money for making masks.

“I didn’t want money for this,” she said. “It’s just helping. My mother loved to sew and she was always making quilts and donating them for fundraisers and to help her friends. My father always had a big garden and he just gave food to anyone he knew who needed it. I’m just doing what they would do and what they raised me to do.”

Gammon said she will continue making masks as long as they’re needed. And 17 years after losing her husband, she is pleased to see that the same kind of community spirit that helped her family through a tough time is alive and well.


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