It’s been a hard 18 months for Jimmy Cook.

Until the pandemic hit, Cook, 73, of Old Orchard Beach, liked to drive up from Old Orchard Beach twice a week to the Most Holy Trinity Church in Saco for a potluck meal. It was a regular respite, and a way to see friendly faces.

“The last year and a half, they haven’t had it,” Cook said. “You know why. It’s been a difficult year and a half.”

Mike Bolduc, a member of the Knights of Columbus, carves up a turkey Thursday at the Most Holy Trinity Church. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

That’s why Cook, a retired toll-taker who officiates scholastic sports in his spare time, was so glad to be back in the church function hall on Thursday, admiring a slice of a pumpkin pie for the church’s 22nd Thanksgiving meal. Last year’s holiday meal was canceled amid the pandemic.

Now that vaccinations have allowed in-person gatherings to resume, a brigade of volunteers returned to the church kitchen over the last couple of days to roast the turkeys and mash the potatoes and boil the green beans. Many more volunteers delivered nearly 400 meals on Thursday to those who cannot make it to the church in person, said Ray Houde, a parish member.  

The meal is a comfort for hundreds of people who draw a sense of warmth and togetherness on a holiday they would have otherwise spent alone.

Norm Dube, 77, said his wife is in a rehabilitation clinic recovering from COVID-19, so he was on his own this year when it came to finding a meal.

He said it’s been difficult to be alone, especially around the holidays.

“I would have come here earlier but … I went to visit her,” said Dube, as he stabbed a green bean from his plate. “I hope she’ll be home by Christmas.”

For Paul Pelletier, who is not close with his family, the church meal means he has a place to go. Pelletier said he’s lived alone since his mother died 20 years ago. Returning to the church hall brought back memories of when the two of them came to the Most Holy Thanksgiving celebration together, Pelletier said.

The community meal also solves another problem for him.

“I hate cooking,” said Pelletier, a 59-year-old disabled Marine veteran. “Ever since mess duty.”

And there are others who prefer to make a generous donation as a way of thanking the volunteers who labored over the food so they can relax during the holdiays.

Bob Bilodeau, 71, of Lyman attends a related parish near his home, but he comes to Most Holy in Saco for the holiday meal. After decades of going all-out for holiday festivities, slowing down feels right. He said the service they provide for families like his is immeasurable.

Gloria LaCourse of Biddeford talks with Jimmy Cook while she volunteers Thursday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“It’s easier at our age to not have to do a whole lot,” said Bilodeau, a retired Pratt & Whitney machinist and former EMT with the Goodwin Mills Fire-Rescue. “When you get older and retire, it gets harder walking. It gets harder shopping.”

The volunteers say they enjoy having a chance to serve them, too.

Gloria LaCourse, 78, of Biddeford said she’s wanted to volunteer on Thanksgiving for years, and she finally made plans to do it this year with her daughter and grandchildren. LaCourse spent Wednesday in the kitchen peeling carrots, potatoes and squash. On Thursday, she poured cups of soda and milk and bused empty plates, and said it fulfills her to know she can help people out.

“I’m the best-paid waitress here,” LaCourse said.


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