Wednesday November 27, 2013 | 05:40 PM

A volunteer helping  prep Thanksgiving dinner at Wayside Food Programs in Portland.

The holiday season is a time for many of us to be thankful for our blessings – our family, friends, health, and job. Yet, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service report (released September 2013) there are 33.1 million adults and 15.9 million children in our country who struggle with hunger. In Maine, the USDA estimates that 15 percent of households, or more than 200,000 Mainers, are food insecure.

Earlier this month, families nationwide saw their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits cut, further straining their food budgets. In his recent op-ed, USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon highlighted the continued need for SNAP, particularly around the holidays, and reiterated the need for Congress to act on a comprehensive, long-term Food, Farm and Jobs Bill. 

We may not be able to fix the legislature or put together sensible legislation this holiday season, but we as individuals can help ensure fewer children go hungry – at least in our communities.

Wayside Food Programs in Portland, Maine is making sure those persons living on the financial edge, who may not have much to spend on food after paying the rent or mortgage and utilities, have a Thanksgiving feast of their own.

This afternoon I headed over to Wayside’s office and warehouse at 135 Walton Street in Portland to get involved helping prepare Thanksgiving dinner for several hundred people in the Portland and Westbrook communities. I found the experience incredibly well organized and a lot of fun!

A portion of the 150 lbs of mashed potatoes being prepped for Wayside's Thanksgiving dinner.

Wayside Thanksgiving Timeline – How it All Gets Done
September - Carly Milkowski and Don Morrison of Wayside Food Programs confirm food donors with United Way (the organization has coordinated donations for the past three years).

Early October - Volunteer recruitment begins.

End of October – Milkowski and Morrison plan the menu. It fluctuates from year to year depending on what is donated (e.g. this year several cans of green beans came in, so Milkowski put them aside for a green bean casserole for Thanksgiving).

Early November – Wayside receives turkeys from individuals, Hannaford Supermarkets, and others. The volunteer schedule is filled up. Milkowski coordinates plans to cook the turkeys with DiMillo's Restaurant and Lounge and pie pickup with Whole Foods Market in Portland.

Week of Thanksgiving – Food donations are picked up and organized.

Day before Thanksgiving – Morning shift of volunteers prepares the side dishes. Afternoon shift carves the turkeys.

Thanksgiving Day – 8:00 AM the first shift of volunteers arrives at the Portland Club (Black Tie Catering donates usage). Compost sites are set up courtesy of Garbage to Garden. 11:00 AM the majority of volunteers show up to help host, serve, and wash dishes. After a quick meeting to review tasks the guests are let in. From 11:30 AM – 1:00 PM the buffet line is open. From 1:00 – 2:00 PM there is clean up. Leftovers are taken back to the warehouse where items like turkey will be made into pot pies for delivery the following week.

Want to donate food, time, or money any time of the year? Fantastic, go here for more information and click on the “How to Help” tab at the top of the page. Call them at (207) 775-4939 if that is easier. Wayside Food Programs provides food to soup kitchens and food pantries all over Cumberland County. They feed between 500 – 600 people weekly between their nine community meal sites.

Prepping the roasted vegetables at Wayside.

Carly Milkowski (right in baseball cap) and Don Morrison (facing) of Wayside Food Programs are the key organizers of the annual Thanksgiving meal.

Green Bean Casserole prepped at Wayside Food Programs in Portland. Most, but not all, the ingredients are donated.

It wouldn't be Thanksgiving without the stuffing!

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About the Author

Sharon Kitchens is a neo-homesteader learning the ins and outs of country living by luck and pluck and a lot of expert advice. She writes about bees for The Huffington Post and stuff she loves on her personal blog,

When she is not writing, she enjoys edible gardening, reading books on food and/or thinking about food, hanging out by her beehives and patiently tracking down her chickens in the woods behind her old farmhouse.

In her blog, Sharon profiles farm families, reports on farm-based education and internships, conducts Q&A's with master beekeepers, offers tips on picking a CSA, and much more.

Sharon can be contacted at or on Twitter @deliciousmusing.

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