BREWER, Maine — When the doors at Eastern Fine Paper Co. closed in 2004, millworkers were sent out the door with nothing. When Thanksgiving rolled around, many — including 18½-year mill veteran Randy Tompkins — could not provide food for the table.
Eastern Maine Labor Council and Food AND Medicine stepped forward to gather food for laid-off workers and provide turkeys and trimmings to feed their families through the group’s Solidarity Harvest.
Tompkins said Friday that his family would not have had a Thanksgiving Day meal in 2004 if it hadn’t been for the Solidarity Harvest, which is now in its eighth year. Nowadays, he volunteers at the labor council to help others.
“I’ve been doing this for the last several years,” he said. “I want to give back.”
Tompkins was at the labor union Friday afternoon, preparing to make breakfast for volunteers who will be packing the baskets over the weekend. Early next week, he and others will help to deliver them.
This year, the Solidarity Harvest will deliver 320 Thanksgiving dinners to laid-off workers in the area and others in need, said Laura Binger, an organizer at Food AND Medicine.
“It’s already kind of beginning,” she said Friday, as volunteers milled around the Solidarity Center sorting mostly locally grown food into the many baskets.
The turkey dinners include all the fixings needed to feed a group of eight, which means the 320 meals could feed up to 2,560 people.
“Two years ago, we had 150 baskets,” Binger said.
Millworkers at the Verso paper mill in Bucksport do a turkey drive to supply the birds, and additional turkeys are supplied by Manna in Bangor.
“In a basket, we’ve got squash — and all the squash is from local farmers — Maine potatoes, garlic, and people get a root vegetable — either rutabagas, beets or turnips,” Binger said. “They also get onions, carrots, fresh Maine cranberries, stuffing, bread or rolls.”
Students at the Penobscot Job Corps, Eastern Maine Community College and a school in Lincoln made the bread in the baskets, she said.
Morning Glory Bakery of Bar Harbor baked 250 pumpkin pies from locally grown pumpkins, and volunteers will be busy this weekend making apple pies with apples donated by Schartner Farms of Thorndike, which also donated apple cider.
This year, Old Oakes Farm of Maxfield is donating cheese, Binger said.
Monetary donations collected from local union members were matched this year by McTeague Higbee, a law firm based in Topsham, which matched the first $5,000 in donations, she said.
“The meals are coming from people in their own communities to build a strong community, to help each other out through tough times,” Binger said. “We have a lot of people who receive meals who are part of making the meals happen.
“We’re looking at this as a time to support” one another, she said.
“This program is called the Solidarity Harvest because it’s solidarity — it’s not charity,” she said.