WESTBROOK — The first year that members of the Portland Rotary Club volunteered to deliver Christmas dinners to local residents who were homebound, John Houghton had no idea it would become an annual tradition for his club, let alone his entire family.

Now, 33 years later, he can’t imagine Christmas without it.

“We plan our whole morning around doing this,” said Houghton, of Cape Elizabeth, who was joined at the Westbrook Community Center by two daughters and four grandchildren.

Organized by Southern Maine Agency on Aging, dozens of volunteers delivered 231 ham dinners on Sunday to residents of York and Cumberland counties in the Meals on Wheels program.

To qualify for the program, people must be over 60 years old, primarily homebound and unable to regularly prepare nutritious meals, according to the Agency on Aging, based in Scarborough.

About half of the meals were heated by volunteers in their homes and delivered directly to the residents. The rest came out of ovens at the Westbrook Community Center and were delivered by members of the Portland Rotary Club and their families.

Around 11 a.m., groups set out on 18 different delivery routes to Portland, South Portland, Westbrook, Gorham, Scarborough and Falmouth.

Leah Cantor and Greg Shinberg, whose friend works for Meals on Wheels, had volunteered to help prepare the dinners, but when a driver backed out at the last minute, the couple took over the delivery route.

Their first stop was Larrabee Heights, an elderly apartment complex on Liza Harmon Drive in Westbrook.

They knocked on the door of 91-year-old Ken Luce, who was being visited by his two sons, and Paul Barry, 82, who planned to stay home while his partner, Kathleen Poirier, left to visit her daughter.

If it wasn’t for the delivered meal, Poirier said, “he’d be having leftovers.”

Shinberg and Cantor, who are both Jewish, said they often volunteer on Christmas.

“You need to give back,” said Shinberg.

And the payback is instantaneous.

“To bring a smile to someone’s face means everything,” Cantor said.

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

lbridgers@pressherald.com