WATERVILLE — A festive crowd gathered Wednesday at the Elks Lodge banquet room in Waterville for the 13th annual Central Maine Family Christmas Dinner.

From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., those in attendance enjoyed a hot turkey dinner, followed by dessert and coffee. The event also included raffle drawings, music, stockings for the children, carriage rides and a visit from Santa Claus.

Linda Lemieux, a volunteer and board member with the Central Maine Family Christmas Dinner, said the turnout was no surprise.

“We typically feed 800 to 1,000 people,” Lemieux said. “And every year, we’ve seen it grow. There’s been more people coming and more people donating to the event.”

The dinner was founded by Norman “Ziggy” and Kimberley Lawrence of Albion in 2007. The Lawrences’ mission in organizing the dinner was to use it as a way ensure no one spends Christmas alone.

“That’s our mission statement,” said Susan Spencer, a board member and volunteer. “This time of year can be the loneliest for people, and we want to take care of our community and make sure that people have a good Christmas.”

“It’s a lot of hard work and it can get hectic,” Lemieux said, “but it’s a blessing to be able to do this.”

Even when a snowstorm hindered the attendance for the dinner in 2017, Spencer said some people were still determined to make it to the event. She said experiences such as that have kept her coming back to volunteer for the past 11 years.

“We had people tell us that they walked here just so they didn’t have to be alone,” Spencer said. “When you hear things like that, it’s hard not to want to keep doing this and keep being there for your community.”

Michelle Kenney, a second-year volunteer, shared similar feelings on how the dinner is rewarding for her and her family.

“My husband, daughter and I all volunteer, and we love it,” Kenney said. “I love watching people socialize and smile. Some people come alone, some come with their families. And even when they don’t know each other, everyone sits down at the tables and enjoys a meal like they’re a family. It’s special being able to make people smile and feel welcome here on Christmas.”

Maryanne and Mel Graves have attended the last two Christmas dinners and plan to continue the tradition next year.

“We had such a great time last year that we’re definitely going to come back,” Mel said. “Seeing all these people here, it’s wonderful. They’ve done a great job with this event.”

But it is not just the hospitality that keeps them coming back.

“The food is excellent,” Maryanne Graves said.

Spencer said the dinner’s success is largely due to the public’s support.

“We couldn’t do it without the community,” Spencer said. “The Waterville Public Library donated books, people knitted hats and scarves to donate, volunteers made the stockings for the kids. We have a lot of great partnerships with the community here.”

The dinner is funded by local donations and fundraising by the Central Maine Family Christmas Dinner board. More information on the dinner can be found on its Facebook page.

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