PITTSFIELD, Maine — Christmas Day was going to be the first Friday in a year that the First Universalist Church didn’t offer a free meal until Evan Sposato and a team from Sebasticook Valley Hospital stepped in.
Organizers of the church’s Welcome Table, which provides a free lunch to anyone who wants it every Friday, at first reasoned that most people would dine with family on Christmas Day. Sposato, the 28-year-old son of Trudy Ferland, one of the organizers, saw it a different way.
“She didn’t think as many people would show up because they would be with their families,” said Sposato. “The way I thought about it was yeah, that might be so, but the people who come would be the people who would need it the most. It’s not right to be closed on Christmas, of all days.”
Sposato said it was easy to find 16 volunteers willing to devote some of their holiday to the cause. Then Sebasticook Valley Hospital agreed to provide most of what Sposato said would be a full turkey dinner worthy of anyone’s Christmas table.
“My friends and I are also donating various things, so we should have plenty of food,” said Sposato. “The more the merrier.”
The Welcome Table, which will celebrate its first year in existence Jan. 23, is a group of volunteers from the First Universalist Church who enable other community groups and organizations to provide the meals. Ferland said more than 30 businesses, organizations, churches and families have sponsored lunches at the welcome table — usually dishing out meals to 50 or 60 people.
“We just figure out what the needs will be and line up the volunteers,” said Ferland. Besides a warm, well-rounded meal, the Welcome Table provides a social event for a lot of people who have few such opportunities. It’s not uncommon for “guests” to show up an hour or two early so they can volunteer, then stay late talking and playing games.
“It’s become a family atmosphere,” said Ferland. “It’s been really meeting the needs of a community center for senior citizens and a lot of others.”
The Welcome Table marks its one-year anniversary Jan. 9. The support of the community hasn’t ebbed, said Ferland. If anything, the biggest challenge is meeting the demand.
The Christmas Day dinner begins around noon. As always, there will be a basket for donations, but the meal is free. Ferland said the dinner will be dedicated to the memory of Marcia Caveny of Burnham, a frequent Welcome Table volunteer who died Sunday.
“When Evan said we should do a meal on Christmas, Marcia was the first one who said ‘Yes, and I’ll help,’” said Ferland. “That’s why Evan thought it should be dedicated to her.”