PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Michael LaFrance, the exalted ruler of the Presque Isle Elks Club, will never forget a scene from the Christmas dinner a few years ago.
For the past five years, the lodge has put on a free community family dinner on Christmas Day, arranging for those without transportation to be shepherded to the lodge by limousine or delivering meals to those who can’t attend.
“This one year, a woman had made a reservation to attend,” he recalled. “On Christmas Day, she called up and said she couldn’t come because she didn’t feel well enough. We put together a meal and I delivered it to her. I knocked on the door and she opened it, and I saw that she was just about to sit down to a Christmas dinner of a peanut butter sandwich. That would have been it for her if we did not have this event. I sat down and talked to her for a half an hour while she ate her meal. I’m telling you, that did my heart good.”
That type of generosity is nothing new to the club, especially this time of year. LaFrance said club members and volunteers have spent more than two weeks preparing for this year’s Family Christmas Dinner, which will be held beginning at 11 a.m. Friday at the lodge at 508 Main St.
The event usually runs until 2 p.m.
Anyone who would otherwise be alone on Christmas is encouraged to join the Elks and their friends at the celebration, LaFrance said Wednesday.
The Elks will be serving a traditional sit-down Christmas dinner. Guests will be treated to roast turkey, country-cooked ham, the Northeastland Hotel’s tomato bisque, salad and vegetables. LaFrance said the dinner also includes pies and dinner rolls from Governor’s Restaurant.
“We could not do this without our club members, volunteers and the donations that we get from the community,” he said. “A number of businesses have donated food for the dinner and we’ve gotten monetary contributions from our club members and others. It takes a lot to do this, because we usually serve between 150 and 200 people.”
The club pulls out all the stops to make sure anyone who wants to be at the meal, or at least eat it, can do so. As in past years, Luxury Limos of Caribou will provide free limousine service to assist those unable to travel to the lodge on their own. For people who use wheelchairs, special equipment is available for their transporta-tion to the lodge.
Numerous volunteers also will be on hand to deliver meals to shut-ins.
Wendell Hudson, James “Sheldon” Wright, Peter Parker, Leland Clark and other local musicians have volunteered to provide live entertainment.
The exalted ruler said the club expects to serve up to 200 pounds of turkey, 70 pounds of ham, 120 pounds of mashed potatoes, 40 pounds of sweet potatoes, 5 gallons of gravy and more.
“To us, this is our way of giving back,” LaFrance said. “That is why we started having this dinner. Some of the people that come do not have a lot of money, or they are elderly and do not have a lot of family or friends left. On Christmas Day, they have a place to go because we do this. We welcome them in, we have them sit down and listen to music while we serve them food, and we make sure they feel taken care of. It would be nice if more people did things like this. Instead of patting yourself on the back because you had a good year, you could celebrate it by doing something good for someone else.”
LaFrance noted that the dinner has become bigger every year, attracting more diners and volunteers.
“It is not just Elks Club members and their wives and friends who help out,” he said. “We have teenagers from the local schools and community members who are not affiliated with the club at all. They just want to come in and give back on a day like this.
“For most people at Christmas, the company of family and friends is often the greatest joy of all,” he said. “The goal of the Elks is to give everyone the opportunity to share in that joy.”
Anyone who would like to attend the dinner should call the Elks Lodge at 764-0985 to reserve a place. A limousine ride to the lodge also can be booked, free of charge, if transportation is a problem.