LEWISTON — Hope came with a side of cranberry sauce for the second year as Recovery Connections of Maine gave out Thanksgiving meals Sunday afternoon to the homeless and recovering at the R.E.S.T. Center.

The smell of turkey fryers wafted over the rear parking lot on Middle street and into downtown Lewiston as patrons huddled indoors to watch the New England Patriots beat the Tennessee Titans.

R.E.S.T., which stands for recovery, employment, support and training, is a nonprofit organization that aims to provide resources to those recovering from drug addiction and homelessness by helping them find personal and professional stability in their lives.

The event began in 2019, but was postponed last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s event was coordinated by co-founding board member Jeremy Hiltz and T Pele. Hiltz is also the founder and CEO of Recovery Connections of Maine and Recovery Housing of Maine, having spent 10 years prior working in the field of addiction treatment.

“The opposite of addiction is connection. It’s really about trying to build a community,” Hiltz said.  “Seeing people get a little better and just seeing hope, you know what I’m saying? Just being able to provide some hope. No matter what stage someone’s at, whether they’re using or not using.”

The three recovery offices within the Twin Cities — one in Lewiston, two in Auburn — rely largely on volunteers who came together to work the event, after spending the holiday with loved ones.

Jeremy Hiltz, a founding board member at the R.E.S.T. Center in Lewiston, replaces the lid Sunday afternoon on a turkey fryer behind the Main Street facility in Lewiston after removing a cooked bird. They center was hosting a Thanksgiving meal and football watch party. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

One volunteer, Sis Martell, said she prefers to spend the holiday this way. Martell does not usually celebrate Thanksgiving, instead taking the day to do things for herself.

“This year was laundry,” she said. 

Martell has been volunteering with the R.E.S.T. Center for more than a year, also working with multiple community organizations, including the Kindness Collective, Auburn Housing Association, Kaydenz food pantry and Recovery Houses of Maine.

Martell made potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, stuffing, cheese tray appetizers, gravy, cranberry sauce and carrots for the event. The turkey was handled by Hiltz and Pele. 

“They deserve it. They’re trying. All you gotta do is try,” Martell said, explaining her efforts were the least she could do for people trying to better themselves.

The Lewiston-raised Auburn resident said she thinks the area’s drug problem has worsened over the years, but the R.E.S.T. Center’s efforts play a large part in combating it.

“I think this R.E.S.T. Center and (others) that open and bring any kind of education and support is the only way we’re gonna fix this epidemic,” Martell said. “Turning our backs on people is not the answer.”

According to World Population Review, about 2,100 Maine residents are homeless, which can be attributed to a variety of factors, including low wages, lack of affordable housing, poverty and unemployment.

The R.E.S.T. Center conducts recovery coaching and daily self-help meetings, ultimately acting as a drop-in center, where people come to connect with staff members and others in recovery and take advantage of courses offered in résumé writing, computer literacy and music production. 

Douglas Lane, a first-time visitor to the R.E.S.T. Center, said he saw an announcement on Facebook and was pleased to learn that along with hot meals, so much was offered at the center.

“I’m (just) thankful for a place to go where it’s warm,” he said.

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