written by Collin Hickey
The pies have yet to be baked and the turkeys yet to be roasted, but make no mistake, preparations for the annual Thanksgiving Day dinner at Messalonskee High School are already in motion.
“Two weeks ago, I started getting phone calls,” said Mike Perkins, the long-time organizer of the event, which starts at 11 on Thanksgiving morning in the high school cafeteria.
Perkins made the comment a full week before Thanksgiving. He will get plenty more calls – the Turkey Hotline number is 465-6366 – in the week that follows, given the tremendous need filled by the free meal, a tradition in Oakland for more than 30 years. A year ago, Perkins said he and his army of volunteers, a force he estimates at about 100 strong, served between 200 and 300 at the high school and delivered meals to about 800 people spread across multiple communities in central Maine.
“We have so many volunteers, we have to pace it, or we overdo it,” Perkins said, adding the majority his helpers are children, many of them Messalonskee High School students.
To ensure that everybody gets a chance to pitch in for the meal, Perkins said he sometimes has to ask volunteers to slow down and leave some work for the next crew scheduled to come in for a shift.
Despite the many years he has been involved with the event, Perkins never ceases to enjoy the impact volunteering has on his young workers.
“I run into kids all the time who say, ‘I’ll be back again next year, Mr. Perkins. That was awesome,’ ” Perkins said. “It is a pretty powerful thing for a kid to do that because so many kids are so me, me, me, I’m not going to do that … that’s beneath me, and then, all of a sudden, they do it once and they say, ‘I’m in.’ ”
As always, the meal is open to anybody who comes or calls, no questions asked, no eligibility requirements necessary. For many of the people who come each year the event is as much about fellowship as it is about food, according to Perkins. Many people, he said, are lonely and simply love the opportunity to eat with others.
To feed the 1,000-plus diners anticipated, Perkins said he and his fellow volunteers plan to have about 50 turkeys and a massive quantity of potatoes and assorted other trimmings as well as 200 homemade pies – including apple, strawberry, blueberry, lemon, and pumpkin – courtesy of the Girl Scouts.
Without a doubt, the long preparation and the frenzied day of the meal itself amount to an exercise in exhaustion, but it is an endurance test that Perkins and his Turkey Day team are happy to repeat year after year.
“By the end of the day,” he said, “you go home tired, but you feel like Superman.”