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'Everyone welcome' at free suppers
NORWAY — Every third Friday, a free supper is held at the Second Congregational Church on Main Street where, according to Deb Ladner, "everyone in the community is welcome."
Ladner is one of the women who first organized the community suppers and helps prepare the hot meal every month. Supper is served at 5 p.m.
In April, the church will celebrate its second anniversary of community suppers, she said. It is planning on serving the community for years to come.
"We may branch out into breakfast every once in a while," Ladner said – but for now, the church is focusing its efforts on supper.
The meals are supported by ongoing donations from the community, Ladner said.
She gives credit to the women's fellowship group whose contribution made the first supper happen, as well as Arthur Gouin, who passed away last year and believed in the suppers so much that he requested donations [to them] in lieu of flowers [when he died], Ladner said.
According to Ladner, the suppers draw around 100 people every month. "They all like a hot meal," she said, of those who regularly attend. She said sometimes the suppers attract as many as 185 people.
"For our one-year anniversary we had a big turkey dinner," Ladner explained. "On Christmas we had a lot of people here and it was cold and snowy."
Popular menu items include American chop suey, spaghetti and meatballs, meatloaf, ham dinner and of course, macaroni and cheese, Ladner said. "Everybody loves it."
Everyone is even encouraged to take food home with them. Some people enjoy the suppers so much they show up a couple hours early just to visit and socialize, Ladner said. "It's a lot of fun."
According to Ladner, the suppers aren't just meant to fill stomachs – "It's a big social time for a lot of people," she said.
"We have had people with us since the very first supper. We all have a ball. We all like being with each other."
Ladner said there could be as many as 20 volunteers to help cook, serve and clean up after dinner.
"You just show up, pick a project and do it," she said. "Everybody works well together."
And, Ladner explained, everyone – whether a volunteer or patron – appreciates it. She attributes the high number of attendees with the poor economy.
"A lot of people are going to have to choose between heat and food," she said.
When we started this, we were concerned about our own kids, and our own families. We thought it was a good thing; we thought it was needed."
"We are self-supporting now," said Pam Davison, who helped Ladner organize the suppers. She said the suppers seem to be more popular in the winter time, because people are also trying to heat their homes.
"We have one young family that comes pretty much every month, and the only way they can get here is by taxi," she explained.
"We knew people were probably struggling, but I don't think we realized just how much," she said.
Pam said she, Ladner and her husband Bruce make sure none of the food goes to waste.
"We either bring it out or heat it up for the next meal ... Last winter we had people walk from South Paris ... It was a cold night, and they went home with containers of soup to keep warm on the way."
One 8-year-old boy even got up to get a fourth serving during one of the suppers. "He was hungry," Pam said.
Bruce makes all of the desserts and always makes enough to send home with people. Bruce makes 10 dozen cookies every month, along with cakes and Cheerio bars and Needhams, his wife boasted.
"He's building a reputation," Pam explained. "All these older ladies call him their cookie man; they fight over whose cookie man he is," she laughed.
"It's almost like family to us," Bruce said.
"It's nice to see people relax a little bit. Even if it's just for an hour. It puts them in a calm, safe, friendly place."
Pam said some people travel all the way from Bridgton and Mechanic Falls for the meals. "People have reconnected with people they haven't seen in a while," she said.
It even brings back memories for some. "It's amazing ... how many of them share with us, 'I used to come here for Girl Scouts,' or 'my Baccalaureate was here in 1958,'" Pam said.
"Just out of the blue some people say thank you and that they appreciate it," Ladner said, "and that's a great feeling."
Next month's meal, Friday, February 15, is beef stew, biscuits, macaroni and cheese and "desserts by Bruce."
To support the community suppers, send a check marked "suppers" to 201 Main Street P.O. Box 164 Norway, Maine 04268.