BREWER, Maine — Jane and Cliff Pierce’s children and family are scattered across the country in Montana, Texas, Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Joan and Harold Goodwin celebrated Christmas two weeks before the actual day because their son and daughter were heading to Florida for the holiday.
Both couples sat down to Christmas dinner with friends and strangers Sunday at the First Congregational Church of Brewer and created a family.
After darkness fell and snow blanketed the Queen City, a group of friends gathered at a Chinese restaurant in downtown Bangor as family to exchange Christmas gifts and share a meal.
Last year, Joshua Plourde of Bangor and three friends met at Panda Garden, one of the few restaurants open on Christmas. This year, the group expanded to a dozen or so.
“These people have all been thrown into my life randomly,” he said Sunday while he perused a menu. We all have family but we may not like them enough to spend the entire holiday with them. My family is scattered, so I’ve adopted several families as my own.”
Karen Foley, who works with Plourde at the University of Maine, spent Christmas Eve with her grown children. If her colleague had not asked her to join his makeshift family, she might have been alone. Foley said what she liked about Plourde’s idea was “not having to cook and spending time with my friends, who are another family.”
Diners at the Brewer church expressed similar sentiments.
“This adopted family at church is better than no family at all,” Jane Pierce of Bangor said. “The family that prays together, stays together, after all.”
Sunday’s event was the fourth time members of the church, located on Church Street in Brewer, have offered Christmas dinner. It’s a tradition they plan to continue, J. Faye Wolfe, a church member who did much of the cooking, said.
The idea was sparked when Gloria Pinkham wished her Brewer apartment was larger so she could open her home to friends and people who might not be able to get a meal on Christmas Day. Pinkham teamed up with Wolfe and fellow Brewerite and church member Beverly Wilson to use the fellowship hall at the church.
The event drew more than 40 people Sunday. The traditional turkey, stuffing, potatoes, vegetables and rolls were served along with roast beef and ham. Participants were asked to take part in a Christmas carol singalong after dinner.
About half of them, including the Pierces, are long-time church members. Others, like the Goodwins, who live in the Eagle Ridge Senior Citizens’ Park in Brewer, are familiar with the congregation because they have attended other events there.
“It’s nice to have a place to go on Christmas,” Joan Goodwin said.
Three people, who sat together for the meal, declined to give their last names.
“If we weren’t here, we’d be no place,” Gwen said. “This is it, which is really nice, which we appreciate.”
Gwen had dinner with her son, Joe, and their friend Gary. All three said they were from Bangor.
“If I weren’t here I’d be home eating bread and water,” Gary said.
Wolfe said the church planned to continue offering Christmas dinners in the coming years.
“There seems to be a lot of free food on the Bangor side of the [Penobscot] River,” she said. “There’s not a lot on the Brewer side.”
The church also offers a free community breakfast on the fourth Saturday of each month. The next breakfast will be served at 8:30 a.m. Jan. 28.