SANFORD — On Tuesday, May 10, teens from St. Thérèse of Lisieux Parish in Sanford and Holy Spirit Parish in Kennebunk and Wells will do what they do on the second Tuesday of every month: serve a free meal and cheer to anyone in need of either.

The difference will be that for the first time in over two years, the meal will return to an in-person format at St. Ignatius Gym on 25 Riverside Avenue in Sanford. All are welcome to enjoy a free delicious pasta dinner, fresh bread, salad, beverages, and even dessert. Meals will be served from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Now in its fifth year, the Matthew 25:35 Meals have become a community staple, a place to be reminded of the kindness of strangers, the enthusiasm of Catholic youth, and the power of service. Devised as a way in which to teach local teens about the importance of giving back, particularly the Bible verse Matthew 25:35 (“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me…“), the dinners have become so much more. They have built community, delivered delicious food and joy, and inspired generosity. It’s an initiative that has brought support from local businesses and organizations that are moved by its motivation.

“Over the past five years, the St. Mary’s Ecumenical Food Pantry in Wells has provided food, Congdon’s Doughnuts has provided our condiment containers and flatware packets. When they were trying to get us take-out containers, one of their vendors, Favorite Foods, decided to just donate hundreds of take-out containers to the project. Parishioners donate gift cards, fruit cups, and cookie packages. After our first meal when it became apparent that we would need portable electric roaster ovens, the Springvale Knights of Columbus just went out and bought them for us. This has truly been a blessing,” said Carolyn Houston, director of faith formation at Holy Spirit Parish.

The path to this successful ministry has not been without obstacles. Like most programs, the Matthew 25:35 Meals were temporarily halted by the pandemic, unable to operate for a few months in 2020. Under the conditions, to quickly return, the sit-down meal approach was altered.

“Our team at Holy Spirit and St. Thérèse of Lisieux brainstormed about how we would tackle the COVID-19 dilemma and somehow get a hot meal to those in need,” said Lisa White, a catechist at Holy Spirit Parish. “What an amazing team effort it was.”

Curbside service to cars and pedestrians was the answer. There was trepidation about how the new format would be received but thankfully, those concerns were short-lived.

“We were very nervous about how it would go for our first meal since the pandemic began, but at the end of the night, we were thrilled with the turnout and how well our plans were implemented without incident,” said Lisa. “With the teens standing outside taking orders, they were able to be more visible to the public and interact more with patrons. The teens did their jobs so well. It made me proud to see them at work, making an impact on the community and being the hands and feet of Christ.”

“I think the curbside meals taught our youth that service isn’t about convenience. If there is a need and an obstacle to addressing that need, we as a community should find a way to overcome the obstacle,” said Carolyn. “We are so blessed with a caring community.”

A caring community that will now once again be able to sit down at carefully set tables for a meal and do it together.

“My prayer is that all who serve and all whom we serve are able to see that these kinds of small gestures are driven by the same Spirit who cherishes each one of us,” said Carolyn.

Donations labeled “Matthew Meal” can be dropped off at either St. Martha Church (30 Portland Road in Kennebunk) or St. Mary Church (236 Eldridge Road in Wells). For more information or if you can help the cause with a financial donation, contact Carolyn Houston at 207-985-6252 or carolyn.houston@portlanddiocese.org