WATERVILLE — Winter Storm Ethan kept many away from the typically packed Central Maine Family Christmas Dinner on Monday at the Elks Lodge in Waterville.

Roughly 200 diners turned out, though organizer Jeff Cucci said as many as 1,000 had showed up in past years.

James Rowe, accompanied by his wife, Marcy, and their children, Thomas, 14, and Madison, 13, said they weren’t going to let the storm keep them from the meal, which ran from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. He said they made sure to travel slowly on the roads.

Marcy Rowe said it was the family’s second year of coming to the dinner and that it was a good place to be when they don’t have family functions to attend.

“We figured we’d come here and get a good meal around other people,” she said.

Volunteers – many clad in green and red shirts, with some donning Santa Claus hats or reindeer antlers – brought plates full of gravy-covered turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas, stuffing and dinner rolls to the hungry diners. Some volunteers pushed around carts of homemade pies and cupcakes, while others offered glasses of eggnog, punch and coffee to the guests.

Santa Claus greeted children for photographs and walked the floor wishing guests a Merry Christmas.

Among the volunteers were Ralph and Heather Merrow, who have been working at the event since its inception 11 years ago. The Waterville couple, accompanied by their son, said serving at the dinner has become a special tradition for them and that helping out in the community is just part of their DNA as a family.

“We’re a volunteer family,” Ralph Merrow said. “It’s about teaching our son the value of volunteering.”

It was also a family affair for first-time head organizer Cucci. Cucci had been volunteering with his wife at the dinner for five years until 2016, when she died. Last year’s event was dedicated to her memory, and now the Cuccis’ children and seven grandchildren all volunteer alongside Cucci.

Cucci’s son helped greet guests at the door, and one of his grandaughters spent the day making balloon animals for children.

Cucci took over the event from Ziggy Lawrence, who founded the event and ran it for 10 years.

Emily Higginbotham can be contacted at 861-9239 or at:

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Twitter: EmilyHigg

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