Believe it or not, Debi Hubbard has selfish reasons for cooking Thanksgiving dinner for more than 200 people each year at the VFW hall in South Portland.

Hubbard started the tradition 16 years ago, with her friend Judy Levesque, because she wanted to avoid the challenge of splitting the holiday between her mother’s house and her mother-in-law’s house.

She also enjoys cooking, and she loves serving people who otherwise might not have a traditional turkey dinner, complete with herbed stuffing and homemade pie.

“It warms my heart,” the petite, energetic Hubbard said earlier this week. “I don’t know why I love it the way I love it. It’s better than Christmas.”

Through the years, Hubbard has become an expert at preparing a meal for a large group of people and organizing the legion of volunteers who will help her host the free event from noon to 3 p.m. today. In the beginning, she was unschooled but committed.

“It was scary the first year,” Hubbard said. “Now, it falls together so easily, it’s fantastic. And it’s all made from scratch, right down to the gravy.”

Hubbard, 60, began planning today’s meal weeks ago, seeking cash donations to buy supplies and lining up 35 family members and friends to help her prepare and serve the meal. Her 5-year-old granddaughter, Shaylee, is eager to help out.

“I can’t wait, Gammy, to go serve pie,” Shaylee said days before the dinner.

The guests of honor typically include residents of local senior housing complexes and homeless shelters, as well as families and others struggling to make ends meet, Hubbard said.

To ensure everyone feels welcome and special, guests are seated and served at tables set with china, silverware, linen tablecloths and holiday centerpieces. Volunteers, including police officers, also deliver several meals to home-bound residents.

“The dinner isn’t just for people who can’t afford it,” Fahey said. “A lot of people live alone and they enjoy the fellowship of sharing a meal with others. When we deliver meals, we often stay and chat for a few minutes.”

Hubbard bought the turkeys on Tuesday afternoon. Her son, Tedd Hubbard, loaded the heavy cartons into his pickup truck. She made a final shopping trip on Wednesday morning and started preparing the meal at the VFW in the afternoon.

Hubbard admits that it’s a lot of work, but she can’t imagine celebrating Thanksgiving any other way. She plans to host the annual dinner as long as she can.

“Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t,” she said.


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