PITTSFIELD, Maine — Sometimes you have to read between the lines.
At first glance, attendance at the Christmas Day version of the Pittsfield Welcome Table was average compared with the usual crowds that gather every Friday for free meals and socializing at the First Universalist Church.
Then again, empty seats probably mean that the people who usually fill them have somewhere else to be on Christmas Day and didn’t face the holiday alone, said Sue Quint, who with numerous others were hosts for Friday’s meal. Still, by 1 p.m. at least four dozen people had eaten a full turkey dinner with all the sides and desserts they could handle. That those people had a place to be was the important thing.
“I didn’t need to get volunteers,” said Quint, a care manager at Sebasticook Valley Hospital. “All I had to do was join forces.”
The hospital and its employees provided most of the food and a team of about a dozen volunteers led by Evan Sposato. Sposato, who donned a black chef’s smock in the wee hours of Christmas morning to start cooking numerous turkeys, is the son of Trudy Ferland, one of the Welcome Table’s organizers.
Asked whether he’d ever spent Christmas this way before, Sposato said he hadn’t.
“I’m not giving up my Christmas,” he said. “Everyone here is having a good time.”
Melissa Bean, of Augusta, agreed.
“I’m glad my friend invited me to do this,” she said.
For some of the diners, the choice between being at home alone or joining a festive group was easy. Gene Cropley, of Pittsfield, said his only expected company left early in the day. His wife of 52 years, Lieselotte, died in January at age 75.
“There’s no one at home to cook anymore,” said Cropley, who has spent much of his life living in Pittsfield. As a teenager he had a job as a caretaker for the First Universalist Church. That he would enjoy Christmas dinner in the building’s basement gathering room so many decades later never occurred to him.
“It’s excellent,” he said. “It’s an outstanding meal.”
A man from Palmyra chatted jovially with a reporter and others, but he didn’t want to be identified in the newspaper. “Being here is a private thing,” he said. “I live alone and I had no other invites. But I’m here and I’m glad I came.”
The Welcome Table will hold another free lunchtime meal on New Year’s Day next Friday and every Friday after that. On Jan. 23, the program will celebrate its first year in existence with a play beginning at 7:30 p.m. in the church’s auditorium. Proceeds will benefit the Welcome Table and a fund to repair the auditorium’s ceiling.
Marie Cormier, one of the many Cormiers serving food and washing dishes Friday, will star in the two-person play opposite Sposato. Titled “For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again,” the play chronicles the life of a mother and her son.
“It’s a good feeling, volunteering,” said Cormier. “It’s like we’ve put the spirit of Christmas into Christmas.”