Jessica Dow of Oxford, her son Ethan, 8, and two other sons served free Thanksgiving dinner at St. Catherine of Sienna Church in Norway. She wanted her children to learn that it is good to help people. Credit: Lori Valigra

Jessica Dow of Oxford wanted to teach her three sons that it is good to help other people, so the family volunteered to serve Thanksgiving dinner at St. Catherine of Sienna Church in Norway.

The free meal, served to about 115 people in the church basement and delivered to others who could not get there, has been a staple of the community for 40 years, giving those who are homeless or without family on Thanksgiving a hot meal and a warm, friendly place to share it.

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Dow didn’t have to push her sons to join the activities.

“It’s fun,” said her son Ethan, 8. “I like helping. It makes me happy.”

“It’s great to help other people,” said Logan, 16, another of Dow’s sons, as he carried a tray of pumpkin pie slices to the room of chattering diners. He also can use the community service for credit at Gardiner Area High School, which he attends.

Credit: Lori Valigra

Jessica Dow said the family volunteers every Thanksgiving. Last year, it was at the Hope Haven Gospel Mission in Lewiston.

“It’s nice to help people who don’t have a place to go or are less fortunate,” she said.

After spending a couple hours at the Norway church, the Dows will return home for their own Thanksgiving meal with a total of 11 family members attending.

Chef Bruce Perham, who has been cooking 200 Thanksgiving meals for the past 20 years at the church, said he won’t be going home and cooking yet another turkey.

“I’ll eat here. This is my Thanksgiving dinner,” he said.

Church secretary Jodi Roma said a lot of the same people come every year. Some don’t have family in the area, while others are homeless. Some are parishioners, and some just come in from the community. Others come in, bag up a meal and take it with them.

“This is important,” said Father Edward Clifford, who has been with the Norway church for a year and a half. The church, along with several other local churches, paid for the meal.

“It’s nice for people who are limited economically and for people who like to be together and not eat by themselves,” he said. “People like to be with other people on this day.”

That was the case with Millie and Robert Pope, who were spending their third Thanksgiving at the church.

“Our family is spread out, and we usually come when they aren’t around,” Robert Pope said.

The same is true of Margaret Staples and Don Cummings, cousins whose families were spending Thanksgiving out of state.

Credit: Lori Valigra

The cousins and the Popes have gotten to know each other, and joked easily among themselves as they dig into dessert.

“I keep running into that guy,” Cummings said as he nodded toward Pope.

The upbeat atmosphere in the room is one reason why volunteer Tricia McCaughin returns every year.

“Above any other day you should be willing to serve,” said McCaughin, who was busy packing desserts into a food basket with four full dinners to deliver to parishioners who couldn’t get to the church. “The best way to give thanks is to help someone else.”