Hope Poore, Gabriella Walters ad Elizabeth Johnson work at the Mind Body and Soul table at First Parish Congregational Church of Saco on Monday, as the church held its 12th MLK Jr. Day of Service. Tammy Wells Photo

SACO — There were fresh fruits and vegetables, personal care items like toothpaste and shampoo, and cleaning supplies; there were shoes, both new and gently used and clothing from underwear to jackets. There were haircuts and vision screenings, foot care and blood pressure checks. There was breakfast and lunch — nourishment for the body in this house of worship, and a host of volunteers to make the experience cheerful and welcoming for those who stopped by.

Monday was the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service at First Parish Congregational Church, UCC, of Saco.

It was a day to give back. It was a day to give to anyone who needed a helping hand.

Jon Edstrom ladled macaroni into pans at First Parish Congregational Church of Saco on Monday, the first past of assembling the American chop suey luncheon meal at the MLK Jr. Annual Day of Service. Tammy Wells Photo

And it was plenty busy.

Organizer Kristine Galasyn said about 90 people had walked through the doors from the 9 a.m. opening to 11 a.m., and more were expected to drop by for a hot and hearty lunch of American chop suey, vegetable soup, rolls, cookies, brownies, and delectable-looking cupcakes. In fact, she said, people were lined up Monday morning waiting for the event to open.

This year, Galasyn said, she has noticed more families with young children attending the event including one mother with an infant, an expansion, perhaps, of the need.


There were volunteers from Thornton Academy in Saco, Biddeford High School and Casco Bay High School, Boy Scout Troop 310, and an array of parishioners and others, at the church. Other church volunteers went out in the community to lend a hand, at Seeds of Hope in Biddeford, at The Landing and at a Biddeford food pantry.

Jon Edstrom was in the kitchen, ladling macaroni into big pans, getting it ready for the chop suey mixture to follow. For Edstrom, who teaches history at Biddeford High School, it was a family event — his wife Lisa was volunteering in another part of the church.

At the kitchen sink were Boy Scouts Patrick Young and Ryan Gordon, keeping up with the piles of dirty dishes.

Sue Burgess was kitchen manager for the event.

“It’s not a day off, it’s a day on; a day of service,” she said.

Amy Desroberts gives a hair cut at the annual First Parish Congregational Church of Saco MLK Jr. Day of Service on Monday. Tammy Wells Photo.

Earlier in the morning, the crew had served up egg bake casseroles, bacon and sausage, and there were packed lunches to go, as well.


In the stair well there was a sign that summed up the event:

“God won’t ask what you did to help yourself, but will ask what you did to help others.”.

The electric clippers hummed as Amy Desroberts ran them over the hair of a client in for a cut. Desroberts, who works nearby at On the Go Hair Designs, has been taking part in the day of service for 11 of the past 12 years. This year, she brought her three daughters, who were painting the fingernails of youngsters who were at the event with their parents.

“It’s a great gift of community today,” she said.

On the first floor of the vast church building, the high school students were packing reusable bags with wipes, soap, disinfectant, tissues, paper towels, ideas for mindfulness and a list of available area resources. Also on the table was citrus fruit, bananas, apples, and cucumbers and other vegetables.

Ryan Gordon, left, and Patrick Young, both of Boy Scout Troop 310, were on dish duty at the annual MLK Jr. Day of Service at First Parish Congregational Church in Saco on Monday. Tammy Wells Photo

The table of goods, called Mind, Body and Soul, was made possible through a $600 grant the young people had earned from a Commission for Community Service program called Volunteer Maine.


Brian Roche of Volunteer Maine stopped by for a look.

“It’s good to see,” what the young people accomplished, he said. He pointed out that Maine is ninth in the nation for volunteerism.

Eric Leighton, who works at the Walmart Vision Center,  was conducting vision screenings. The tests let people know that they might want to consider a fuller eye exam. Leighton said he also informs those who stop by about other aspects of eye health.

One couple, said Leighton, thought their eyeglasses were allowing them to see just fine, but that turned out not to be the case.

Cynthia Croteau was standing by the shoe display, where dozens of pairs of shoes and boots were at the ready for those who needed them. She pointed out that the church’s shoe ministry is ongoing year around.

Among those checking out the shoes was Saco resident Vera Neault.

“I come every year,” said Neault, who was also looking for socks and other articles of clothing. “I’m just getting what I need. Thank goodness for programs like this.”

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