PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — For members of the Presque Isle Elks Club, the sound of Christmas begins not with the ripping of wrapping paper, but with the clicking of the key unlocking the door of the Main Street facility.
By 6 a.m. Saturday, a handful of club members and volunteers were inside the building, lighting ovens, chopping vegetables and setting tables on which to spread a Christmas dinner for more than 150 people.
The club’s annual Family Christmas Dinner has been a seven-year labor of love for members of the lodge, and for the volunteers who come back year after year, it is the best way to spend their Christmas.
The free dinner drew an estimated 155 people this year, many of whom were shepherded to the lodge by limousine. Approximately 75 meals were delivered to those who couldn’t make it to the club this year.
“To me, this is what being a member of the Elks Club and being a member of the community is all about,” Bill Davis, a club member, said Saturday. Davis was helping to cook the feast, which included fresh tomato bisque, roast turkey, country-cooked ham, dinner rolls, salad, mixed vegetables and squash. “This club exists in part to give back to the community, and this is one of the major ways that we do it. If we didn’t do this, most of the people sitting at the tables would be alone or they would go without a traditional Christmas dinner. I love doing this.”
For seven years, the Presque Isle Elks Club has put on a free community family dinner on Christmas Day, arranging for those without transportation to be driven to the lodge by limousine. For those unable to attend, the limo delivers meals.
Ernie Lovely, the club’s exalted ruler, was one of the major organizers of the event, which takes close to four months to put together. Lovely was busy driving the limo Saturday morning. Most of those who received limo rides were inside the club by 10 a.m. for appetizers and musical entertainment.
The majority of the food was donated to the club by local businesses, organizations and individuals, according to Lovely. Approximately 40 volunteers began prepping for the meal earlier in the week.
Volunteering at the club has been an annual event for the McKnight family of Presque Isle. Erica McKnight said Saturday that the family had been volunteering each Christmas for “five or six years.” Family members, including McKnight’s daughter, 13-year-old Megan McKnight, were serving meals to the diners. The entire meal, from appetizers to fresh pies and cookies, was a sit-down affair.
“This is something that we just started doing and we really had a good time that first year,” Erica McKnight said as she waited to fill a serving platter with plates. “So we have made this a tradition. We open some gifts and then come here and help out. Then we go visit other relatives.”
Megan McKnight said that she enjoyed the experience, and that it wasn’t hard to give up part of her Christmas to help others.
Dylan Lovely, 12, was volunteering at the event for the first time. He also was serving diners that day, wearing an official T-shirt marking the event.
“My grandfather asked me if I wanted to do it, and I said yes right away,” he said. “I really like it.”
While Lovely was a first-time volunteer, Yvonne Levesque of Presque Isle also was attending the event for the first time. She was invited to join a group of friends at the event and decided to take them up on the offer.
“I live alone and my family is scattered in other states, so there is no reason to cook a big dinner just for me,” she said Saturday. “I can’t believe how nice everything is here. The meal was just wonderful. It has really been a great day.”