FARMINGTON – Pulling off a Thanksgiving dinner for 350 people takes some practice and a lot of help.
Fortunately for Rufus and Charlene Cox of New Sharon, they have both.
The couple started helping with the annual dinner 10 years ago when the Scottish Rite Masons Valley of Augusta held a free Thanksgiving dinner at Gardiner High School as part of its Family Life Program. With their six children spread at across the country, they decided to join a larger gathering of family for the annual turkey dinner.
“We volunteered there for two or three years,” Charlene Cox remembers. “Then my husband said there’s a need in Farmington so we decided to try it here.”
That first year they served 150 meals that were either delivered or served at Mt. Blue High School. This year they served 350 people, with 305 meals being delivered from Stratton-Eustis to Jay and Livermore Falls. The rest come in to the high school for the meal provided at no cost.
That first year, Rufus Cox said they were thrilled to get 150 meals out.
“We said, ‘wow, we served so many people,'” he said. “Now,” he said looking at the line up of people eating, “this is something.”
A lot of organizing goes into making a dinner for hundreds scattered across the county. At the end of October, fliers go out to churches, town offices and businesses announcing the dinner and asking for sign ups. SeniorsPlus sends out the flyer too and Charlene goes to work making lists of those who would like to receive a meal or those who would like to volunteer to help.
Some 450 pounds of turkey was cooked at several volunteers’ homes. So were the 75 homemade pies. In addition, 250 pounds of potatoes, 60 pounds of peas, 150 pound of squash, 375 rolls, plus gallons of gravy and cranberry sauce are prepared and delivered by more than 75 volunteers. Included in those volunteering are two Mt. Blue High School student groups – the Maine Jobs for Graduates and the National Honor Society.
Food donations roll in too. The Turkey Farm of New Sharon and Greaney’s Turkey Farm of Mercer, Bussie York of Sandy River Farms of Farmington, Hannaford’s, Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club all offer help with feeding so many.
“This dinner is for everybody and it’s completely free,” Charlene Cox said. While sitting for a minute to compile the dinner’s numbers, volunteers Brian and Carol Taylor and their granddaughter Sarah McDonald, all of Farmington, stop by to give their congratulations to Charlene. They are among the many who stop to give the couple handshakes and hugs.
“Unless you experience the feeling of satisfaction my husband and I get out of this, you’d see exactly why we do it,” Charlene said. “It’s a chance to give back.”