Ellen Plaisted, left and Laura Smith, co-directors of Table of Plenty, bag to-go meals last week. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

BERWICK — With less than an hour until dinner and the cozy scent of stew in the air, the Table of Plenty volunteers move around the church, laser-focused but laughing as they work.

At one end of a line, students from a local high school scoop cranberry sauce into single servings and portion dinner into containers for those who will come pick it up to go. At the other end, more volunteers assemble the meals in takeout bags.

Outside in the church parking lot, a volunteer in a reflective vest stands ready to direct the cars that soon will be driving through.

The scene is repeated every Wednesday night as guests from throughout southern York County and across the bridge from New Hampshire come together to share a meal or stop by to bring one home.

“They become your Wednesday night family,” volunteer Jeannine Ouellette said as she filled baggies with shamrock-shaped sugar cookies.

For nearly 30 years, Table of Plenty has served weekly dinners to anyone who shows up, no questions asked.


It has become a critical resource not just for those who are struggling financially or may not always know where their next meals are coming from but for isolated, often older people hungry for community.

Table of Plenty gave out 12,000 meals from its locations in Berwick and Kittery last year. That number is expected to rise this year as more people – many from rural areas with limited access to services – seek relief from high food costs.

Cheryl Klausman and Kari Prichard founded the nonprofit when they saw an unmet need in the area. From the beginning in 1994, their mission was to help their neighbors eat regular, healthy, home-cooked meals. The dinners began in Berwick at the United Methodist Church and expanded to York in 2001 (a location that closed during the pandemic) and Kittery in 2009.

“We wanted to give them a place where they could relax and we wait on them,” Klausman said. “They know they’re welcome and no one is going to ask any questions.”

Volunteer Geoffrey Wolfe carries food to tables during the Table of Plenty community meal last week. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

At the start of the pandemic, Table of Plenty shut down for six weeks, then shifted to a drive-up model. That proved to be popular, especially for seniors and others at high risk, and organizers decided to keep both options when dine-in finally resumed last fall.

The economic impact of the pandemic quickly became clear, said Diana Marzinzik, chair of the board and coordinator of the Kittery site. In Berwick, volunteers now serve 140 people a week instead of the pre-pandemic 65 or so. And in Kittery, the number of weekly diners also has more than doubled, to around 95.


“It’s needed as much, if not more, than it was (in 1994),” Klausman said. “It’s unfortunate the need is there, but I feel fortunate we are able to help.”


The regulars start arriving early.

A retired nurse is one of the first through the doors and takes a seat across the table from a local veteran. Another man arrives and sits, his dog by his side, at a table behind them. They greet each other and chat quietly as they wait for service to begin. Like so many others, they come for the food and fellowship.

“There are a lot of folks who would otherwise be alone,” said Ellen Plaisted, who coordinates the Berwick dinners with Laura Smith.

Geoffrey Wolfe, perhaps the most enthusiastic of all the volunteers, brings each diner a set of silverware, then returns with a tray of food. He beams when the guests greet him by name. A couple of the students – this night’s crew is from Somersworth High School in New Hampshire – serve drinks.


The dinners would not be possible without volunteers, who last year logged 1,738 hours across both sites. There’s a steady rotation of groups from local churches and schools, plus individuals who regularly show up to cook, clean and serve.

When Plaisted volunteered for the first time 15 years ago, she felt energized by it all – the atmosphere, the spirit of community, the need. The volunteers help create a warm, friendly, party-like atmosphere, she said, which in turn helps guests feel welcome.

“It must be hard to walk in the first time,” Plaisted said.

Volunteers from left, Jacob Potter, Owen O’Brien, Lukas Kelly and Geoffrey Wolfe, package meals for pickup at the Berwick United Methodist Church last week.  Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Smith has been involved since the beginning. Back then, she was looking for a way to give back to her community. She’s stayed through the years, she said, because it’s fun and she feels like she’s making a real difference in people’s lives. She’s known for her banter with regulars and for bringing them a little cake and singing to them on their birthdays.

“We laugh a lot,” she said. “We know the people and we know who needs extra help.”



“Hello, my friend!” Plaisted calls out as a car pulls up to the back of the church and the driver rolls down her window. “How many meals tonight?”

One of the first people to pull up for takeout is Sharon Brown, who has come over from Somersworth to pick up seven meals for people in her apartment complex. The week before, Meals on Wheels hadn’t delivered because of the weather, causing a ripple effect for the older people, who rely on the food.

Brown also picks up supplies at the food pantry for neighbors who need it, but she knows she can count on Table of Plenty for warm meals each week.

Dee Butler of Berwick chats with volunteers as she pulls up for a to-go meal during the Table of Plenty community meal last week. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

When the next car pulls up, Plaisted asks the woman behind the wheel about her brother’s health. When she learns he is in the hospital, Plaisted offers a couple of extra meals so food won’t be a worry on top of everything else.

Dee Butler, who is retired and lives in Berwick, stops to talk to Plaisted while picking up her dinner. When the coordinators realized that Butler was stretching one dinner into multiple meals, they started sending her home with an extra one each week. Butler said she’s grateful for that, especially with groceries costing so much more.

“I don’t think I can say enough about them,” she says of the volunteers. “They’re out here in the rain and snow and cold. All I have to do is show up.”


A few minutes later, Gary Ricker pulls up in his pickup truck to grab dinner for himself and a few of his tenants. He tells Plaisted about his upcoming surgery and she promises to deliver his meals while he recovers.

“You come here and everyone is smiling,” he said. “It gives me hope.”

Wednesdays are a big night out for the Groft family of Berwick. With six people in the household, including three kids 6 and younger, eating out at restaurants just isn’t in the budget. It’s nice to get a break from cooking and to talk with people from the community, Harvin Groft said as his wife, with their toddler, chatted with other guests, and his 4-year-old and 6-year-old ran around their table playing tag.

Ananias Groft, 1, of Berwick, looks around with curiosity as his family has a meal during the Table of Plenty community last week. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“They think it’s so exciting to come here,” Groft said. “This is going out to eat for them.”

Steve Nagy, a retired school custodian, comes to dinner almost every week with his wife. They like to get out of the house to visit with the friends they’ve made here, and the free dinners help their food budget.

“They put on good meals,” he said. “They’re just like your own family.”

Those feelings of connection are the heartbeat of Table of Plenty. And for the people who organize it all, they provide the motivation to continue to seek out grants, raise money and find support from local businesses, including the farms that donate produce.

“It’s a love,” said Marzinzik, the board chair. “It’s a passion.”

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