More than 150 families in Windham – about 20 more than last year – will visit the Clothes Closet & Food Pantry Monday to pick up their Thanksgiving turkeys, as well as bags filled with vegetables, potatoes, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce and other traditional side dishes, all assembled by a dedicated group of volunteers.

“It has been a zoo around here the last few days,” said Colette Gagnon, the town’s social services administrative assistant, at the pantry on Gray Road this week.

In addition to the help of about two-dozen volunteers, she said, this year the Knights of Columbus Council 10020 in Windham plans to donate canned goods, as well as 130 fresh turkeys to the pantry to help families in need.

“That’s unheard of,” said Rene Daniel, Windham’s general assistance manager, who works in the pantry building. “(Families) are also going to get fresh vegetables, too. This is the first year we were able to do that.”

Speaking to the need in Windham, Daniel said about a quarter of the pantry’s annual budget goes toward helping local families during Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Gagnon said with a $300 grant from Cultivating Community in Portland, the pantry is also able to include fresh vegetables, such as carrots, in the Thanksgiving bags this year. And, Windham Weaponry, said Gagnon, plans to deliver at least 40 pies made by a local baker for the pantry to distribute to families this year, “which is helping us out tremendously.”

Gagnon said several Windham residents, not including pantry volunteers, also lend a hand around Thanksgiving. One resident this week brought five boxes filled with apples to the pantry for distribution to families. Locally grown pumpkins will also be available for families this year, added Daniel.

The deadline has passed for families to sign up for Thanksgiving assistance, but Windham residents are also provided with food on a monthly basis.

Residents, as well as families from surrounding communities, will also have the option to enjoy a free Thanksgiving dinner at North Windham Union Church on Route 302 on Monday, Nov. 23, at 5:30 p.m. The special dinner is organized by nonprofit Food and Fellowship Inc., which hosts Monday Meals. All are invited.

Volunteers at Catherine’s Cupboard Food Pantry, which operates from the Standish Town Hall, have also been busy preparing Thanksgiving baskets to ensure that needy local families are fed. And, this year, more than 200 people are signed up, according to Stuart Leckie, general manager of Pearson’s Cafe at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish, who helps run the pantry.

“The need, in general, for the food pantry is getting greater every year,” Leckie said. “We continually have new clients sign up on a regular basis.”

The food items that are included in the baskets, said Leckie, are donated every year by various organizations. Wayside Food Programs in Portland is providing the turkeys this year.

On Wednesday, Nov. 25, members of the Saint Joseph’s College community will gather for “The Great Thanksgiving Bake Off.” The competition will consist of several teams that will race to make 20 pies each. The college hopes to put together a total of 200 pies in less than three hours that will be sent to Standish Town Hall for distribution by Catherine’s Cupboard volunteers.

Another competition is taking place among students to see who can collect the most Thanksgiving food items to donate to the pantry for the baskets, Leckie said.

The Raymond Food Pantry, located at the Lake Region Baptist Church on Route 302 in Raymond, will have 30 Thanksgiving food baskets available for families this year on a first-come-first-serve basis. Each basket includes a frozen turkey, canned goods, pastries and more, which can be picked up the Thursday before Thanksgiving, said the Rev. Elmer Young.

Young said the pantry would be open the first and third Thursday, rather than the second and fourth Thursday, from 4-6 p.m. during November and December.

Like last year, the Gray Congregational Church’s food pantry does not plan to distribute turkeys to families in need, but it will have its shelves filled with other Thanksgiving meal items, such as vegetables, stuffing and potatoes for families to pick up on Friday, Nov. 20, according to Donna Rand, the pantry’s coordinator. Pickup will be from 2-4:30 p.m.

The pantry, located at 5 Brown St., coordinates with the Caring Community of Gray-New Gloucester every year to assist families for the holiday. Caring Community is a volunteer group organized in 2007 to provide holiday assistance for individuals, families and senior citizens in Gray and New Gloucester.

Rand said there is no limit to the number of families the pantry will be able to serve, but this year she expects around 75. Every year the need is increasing, Rand said.

“This is the time of year when people really struggle,” she said.

All who live in the Lakes Region, not just Gray residents, are welcome to visit the pantry Nov. 20. Rand said. However, people should arrive early and expect to wait a couple hours for help depending on the number of families that show up, she said.

“We will make sure that every single person who comes into our pantry has a meal or the means to get whatever they need. It doesn’t matter where they live,” Rand said. “Everybody will get something. We have never run out of food – ever.”

As of last week, about 34 families had signed up to receive Thanksgiving meal assistance through the Naples United Methodist Church Food Pantry on Roosevelt Trail, said director Connie Madura. Last year the pantry provided 37 families with Thanksgiving food baskets, she said. In 2013, the pantry assembled 44 baskets for families.

“We do turkeys, stuffing, gravy, potatoes, peas, carrots, a pie and dinner rolls,” Madura said.

Naples residents donate many of the turkeys the pantry receives, Madura said. With help from the Naples Lions Club, pantry volunteers plan to distribute the food baskets on Sunday, as well as mittens and hats donated by residents.

“A lot of the church members help us put the baskets together and do food collections throughout the year,” she said. “It’s a time of year to give thanks. We just want to make sure other families can sit down to a meal and not worry about whether they can afford a turkey.”

Every fall the National Junior Honor Society at Gray-New Gloucester Middle School fills a truck with Thanksgiving food baskets to distribute to families in need.

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