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“This has truly been a blessing”: Matthew 25:35 Meals in Sanford Find Way to Flourish in Time of Turmoil

SANFORD---As the rain poured down on this cold early October night, teens from St. Thérèse of Lisieux Parish in Sanford and Holy Spirit Parish in Kennebunk and Wells remain focused, determined to ensure that those waiting in the long line of cars in front of St. Ignatius parish hall for a free and delicious meal would receive one.

“It was down pouring, but the cars still lined up for pasta,” said Colby White, a senior student and member of Holy Spirit Parish. “We show our dedication to this service, and I think this is one way we can show people their community cares about them.”

“It was hard in the pouring rain because our order forms kept getting wet,” said Emma Houston, an eighth grader at Holy Spirit Parish. “One of the best things about curbside though is there are almost no dishes and cleanup is faster!"

On the second Tuesday of each month, teens, and a wonderful group of adults overseeing the process, provide free Matthew 25:35 Meals to anyone in the community who gathers in front of the hall on Riverside Avenue in Sanford.

Devised in 2017 as a way in which to teach local teens about the importance of service, particularly the Bible verse Matthew 25:35 (“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me...“), the dinners have become so much more. They have built community, delivered smiles to faces that need them, and inspired generosity.  

“The St. Mary's Ecumenical Food Pantry in Wells is providing all of our food. Congdon’s Doughnuts provides our condiment containers and flatware packets. When they were trying to get us take-out containers, one of their vendors, Favorite Foods, decided to just donate a few hundred take-out containers to the project. Parishioners donate gift cards, fruit cups, and cookie packages. After our first meal, when it became apparent that we would need portable electric roaster ovens, the Springvale Knights of Columbus just went out and bought them for us. This has truly been a blessing,” said Carolyn Houston, director of faith formation at Holy Spirit Parish.

The path to this successful ministry that has grown in size and reach over the last three years has not been without obstacles. Like many programs, the Matthew 25:35 Meals were rocked by the pandemic, unable to operate from April to August. Traditionally a sit-down meal inside the hall, organizers knew for the ministry to continue, drastic changes would need to be made.

“Our team at Holy Spirit and St. Thérèse of Lisieux brainstormed about how we would tackle the COVID-19 dilemma and somehow get a hot meal to those in need,” said Lisa White, a catechist at Holy Spirit Parish. “What an amazing team effort it was.”

Curbside service to cars and pedestrians was the answer. There was trepidation about how the new format would be received, but thankfully, that trepidation was short-lived.

“We were very nervous about how it would go for our first meal since the pandemic began, but at the end of the night, we were thrilled with the turnout and how well our plans were implemented without incident,” said Lisa. “With the teens standing outside taking orders, they were able to be more visible to the public and interact more with patrons. The teens did their jobs so well. It made me proud to see them at work, making an impact on the community and being the hands and feet of Christ.”

"Even though things are so different as to how we are able to serve our community, the people are so appreciate and still look forward to the meal that is served,” said Theresa Guillemette, a teen at St. Thérèse of Lisieux Parish.

“To see the kids being able to adapt to the new way of doing things and to know that they are still coming to help out no matter what is really an uplifting testimony to God's work in their lives,” said Michelle Guillemette, Theresa’s mother. “It’s a beautiful thing. God is good.”

Despite the temporary absence of the camaraderie and conversation so obvious during the meals served at the tables inside the hall, connections continue to be made at the curb.

“I always look forward to talking to the people we serve and hearing the life experiences they share with me,” said Colby. “There is more to the lives of the most vulnerable than meets the eye, and I am usually taken aback by their deep wisdom. I usually hear something along the lines of: ‘Don't make the same mistakes I made when I was your age.’  The meal is truly a communal experience, in which we all can learn from each other.”

“The take-out version is good, too,” said Emma. “I think it lets people know that others care about them and haven't forgotten them.”

“I think the curbside meals may be teaching our youth that service isn't about convenience. If there is a need and an obstacle to addressing that need, we as a community should find a way to overcome the obstacle,” said Carolyn. “We are so blessed with a caring community.”

And those being served end up receiving more than a meal when they swing by Riverside each month.

“In light of the pope's encyclical of brotherhood, Fratelli tutti, I think the Matthew Meal plays a role in this fellowship,” said Colby. “In the rain, during a pandemic, and in the course of political turmoil, I think that the meals have demonstrated what it means to be compassionate, to show understanding, and to stand in solidarity with all.”

The next meal is set for Tuesday, November 10, from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. All are welcome to attend the event which, of course, will always be held rain or shine.

“My prayer is that all who serve and all whom we serve are able to see that these kinds of small gestures are driven by the same Spirit who cherishes each one of us,” said Carolyn.

For more information or if you can help the cause with a donation, contact Carolyn Houston at (207) 985-6252, (207) 646-5605, or carolyn.houston@portlanddiocese.org