Scarborough Community Thanksgiving provided 1,200 curbside meals in 2020. Contributed / Scarborough Community Thanksgiving

Turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and pie – Scarborough Community Thanksgiving has been providing the public with free holiday meals since 2016. From a dinner with 150 attendees in their first year to an estimated 1,200 curbside meals served last year, the nonprofit organization is picking up right where they left off for their sixth annual event in a few weeks.

Before the pandemic, the event took place in person, with diners gathering from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Wentworth School. Last year, the organization adapted to a curbside format to continue serving people their Thanksgiving meals when it wasn’t safe to gather.

“We’ve largely been separated and some people have even been isolated,” said Bob Leger, a board member who first volunteered in the event’s second year. “Even though we’re going to be (curbside again) this year, it shows that we’re still very much here for each other.”

Interest in the meals surged during the pandemic.

“We had a huge demand for meals because, last year, nobody was vaccinated,” said Kelly Murphy, a board member. “A lot of people weren’t traveling and, for many people, it’s a really daunting thing to cook a Thanksgiving meal.”

In fact, that’s how the event got started.

“Seven years ago, my family and I moved into a bigger house and I was like, ‘we can host Thanksgiving, this would be great,'” said Murphy. “It was a full-blown disaster from the jump. I dumped five gallons of dirty turkey grime water all over my kitchen.”

That nasty spill has resulted in thousands of Thanksgiving meals being served. The organization served over 1,200 meals last year and are on pace to top that this year, according to Murphy.

“We are well on our way to matching, if not exceeding, that number this year,” she said.

The Scarborough Community Thanksgiving dinner usually takes place in person at Wentworth School. Courtesy Scarborough Community Thanksgiving

About 700 meals have been ordered already with a full week to go before registration closes, according to Audra Keenan, the intergenerational programs manager for Scarborough Community Services and an organization board member.

“I think we’re going to be very close,” she said of potentially exceeding last year’s numbers.

This year, Scarborough Community Thanksgiving is officially a non-profit organization.

“We are our own registered non-profit now,” Murphy said. “We’re really proud of that. Getting off the ground was due to help from a lot of people.”

The organization and its annual meal are 100% supported by community donations.

“It’s run by a volunteer board from our community and assisted by the school department, the police department, community services, public works,” Leger said. It’s also partnered with Project G.R.A.C.E., Scarborough’s Neighbors Helping Neighbors group.

In addition to directing traffic and ensuring curbside pickups run smoothly, this year the local police department will deliver meals to those who cannot pick them up themselves.

Community services aids in registration and transportation, especially in past years to help seniors to make it to the in-person dinners.

The school’s nutrition program orders the food and does all of the cooking in the Wentworth School cafeteria

“It’s crazy how they manage to get it all done,” Keenan said. “They’re amazing.”

The event is also sponsored by local businesses.

“Whether it’s a global corporation like Abbott Labs or a small business such as Oak Hill Dry Cleaners … they’re all local businesses that care about our community,” Leger said.

While the curbside format has worked well, Scarborough Community Thanksgiving looks forward to returning to an in-person dining experience.

“I’m really hopeful that we can get back to that next year,” Keenan said. “I love working with this team of people and I love the fact that we’re servicing so many in the community.”

Murphy said that the in-person dinner is “a totally different vibe.”

“When it’s in person it’s on Thanksgiving Day,” she said. “We have volunteers from all over, we have artwork from kids at Wentworth School, linens and china and flowers on the table from Scarborough Garden Club.”

She also emphasized that everyone, even those from outside Scarborough, are welcome to order meals and attend the in-person dinners when they return.

“Sometimes people look at it and they think ‘Oh, this is for people who can’t afford thanksgiving,'” she said. “That absolutely not it. It’s free for anyone who wants to come.”

Leger is proud of Scarborough residents’ ability to come together:

“This is our event. This is our community coming together, and to have a community that cares enough about each other, and that’s so close, that when we have an opportunity to get together and show that we care about each other, that people jump at the opportunity. I think that’s really special,” he said.

Meals will be picked up between 9 a.m. and noon on Wednesday, Nov. 24. Registration is required, and the deadline to register for a meal is Nov. 17. To do so, go to www.scarboroughcommunitythanksgiving.org.

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