PORTLAND – There are usually a lot of community dinners for the homeless on Thanksgiving, but Charles Jones said that’s not always the case on Christmas.
“People want to spend a little more time with their families,” Jones, who is staying at the city of Portland’s Oxford Street Shelter, said Tuesday.
That’s why the dinner put on for the homeless Tuesday, with a special emphasis on homeless veterans, at the Portland Boys and Girls Club, was a destination for Jones and about 300 others.
The diners were provided with a warm and welcoming location, along with turkey and ham dinners with all the fixings, including coffee and pie for dessert.
The dinner was the idea of Jake Myrick, a veteran and the athletic director at the club, who encountered a homeless veteran panhandling on a street corner near Deering Oaks in the fall of 2008. He bought the man a meal, but it struck him that there were probably dozens more like that man around the city.
“You see the need,” he said. “You go by every corner and there are people out there holding a sign.”
He thought about organizing a Thanksgiving meal that year, but there wasn’t enough time. So Myrick enlisted family members to help him pull together something for Christmas.
The first year, about 125 meals were served. That grew to about 300 last year and at least that many were expected this year, with an additional 80 meals taken to Milestone, a foundation that provides an emergency shelter and services to substance abusers.
While the meal is served starting at 5 p.m., Myrick said, he makes sure that the doors to the club open around midday, so that people can come in, get warm, play games and socialize.
That’s a way to make sure “the spirit of giving, the spirit of Christmas is alive for that whole day,” Myrick said.
There are a lot more volunteers now than the first year, and plenty of support, he said. While Myrick and his family members had to chip in to help buy the food for the first event, Hannaford supplies the food now, and Oakhurst Dairy provides milk.
Bill Huntington, who helped with the cooking and serving Tuesday, said he’s happy to give up part of what for most is a day off with family to help others. He said his sister, who lives in Bangor, takes her kids to a soup kitchen there on Christmas.
“It’s becoming a tradition for us,” Huntington said. His family, he said, “has a greater appreciation for what we have” by helping those less fortunate.
This year’s event has a special poignancy for the Myricks.
John Myrick – Jake’s nephew and one of the first people he called on to help with the first dinner – will be going to Afghanistan in less than two weeks for his company, a military contractor that supplies defensive weapons for military bases there. John Myrick will be responsible for helping to train those who will operate the weapons, as well as make sure they’re being installed and maintained correctly.
John Myrick, his wife, Maranda, and their daughter Lily – who will turn a year old five days after her father leaves for the Mideast – flew to Maine from Alabama a few days ago to help out with the meal.
Although they took the opportunity to see family members, John Myrick said at the club Tuesday, the dinner “was more or less the main reason for coming here this Christmas. With me going to Afghanistan and this being my daughter’s first Christmas, I knew it would be special. Making it (the dinner) bigger makes my Christmas even better.”
Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: