Many people in Maine have had difficulty deciding how to safely celebrate Thanksgiving this year due to the pandemic. But for some, the most difficult part of the season is just getting enough food.
In Portland on Wednesday, a team of masked volunteers for the organization Cooking for Community partnered with the local nonprofit organization Amistad and four area restaurants to prepare 350 Thanksgiving meals a day early. The meals will be distributed to people who lack permanent shelter or who are temporarily housed in area hotels.
“We have stuffing, sweet potato casserole with caramelized marshmallows on top, corn, turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole with frizzled onions. And then at the very end, we’ll put turkey gravy and a roll right on top,” says Amistad’s kitchen manager, Jourdan Simon.
Cooking for Community hires local restaurants that need work due to pandemic-related restrictions to prepare the meals using locally sourced ingredients whenever possible.
Caroline Teschke, one of Cooking for Community's founders, says it’s an unusual model.
“We’re helping the economy, but we’re also putting food where it’s most needed,” she says.
Teschke says today’s side dishes were provided by restaurants including Mama Mo’s, LB Kitchen, Leeward, Little Giant and Union.
“The more you do get to know the people in the community, the more rewarding it is, and the more humanity you see. And I’d like to give a shout out to the restaurants. They go out of their way to provide really good, nourishing, nutritious food,” she says.
“I was on the streets a couple of years ago, really going through a hard time. I’ve been down there, so I’d like to give back,” says volunteer Monica Martin, heaping sweet potato casserole into each to-go container. “Especially around the holidays, a lot of people don’t have families, and a lot of people are like, even more depressed than usual, so a nice meal and someone who cares means the world, that’s what I’m trying to do for somebody.”
In previous years, Simon says people would gather together to enjoy the community meals provided. But this year, due to the pandemic, people are not able to gather in. That’s why all the food is prepared to go this year.
“I want the people experiencing homeless to get a really hot meal, so we’re gonna pack that up as quickly as possible and get it right out to the streets,” she says. “Food gives us a warm hug when maybe we can’t get it anywhere else. So, I think this is such a great gift to give folks.”
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Maine was one of the most food insecure states in the nation. Currently, almost 14% of Maine residents are food insecure. Organizers from today’s event say they have distributed over 1,300 meals per week beyond today’s initiative and will continue providing meals beyond the holidays.
Updated 3:51 p.m. to add Union as a participating restaurant and clarifying that Teschke is one of Cooking for Community's founders.