BAR HARBOR — There was still a full month left until Christmas on Monday, but lots of lists were being checked at the Bar Harbor Congregational Church for the island wide Thanksgiving basket drive.
In the holiday spirit of giving, more than 50 people from the community gathered to fill colorfully decorated boxes and bags with food for 250 individuals and families in need throughout Hancock County. Each container came with a list of items, the number of people it was meant to serve and a number to keep track of where it was to go.
Pews were stuffed with boxes of cereal, cornbread, bags of coffee, cans of vegetables and cranberry sauce.
Near the piano, 550 pounds of carrots and 650 pounds of potatoes stood ready to be divvied up. Five-year-old volunteer Quinn Beals was in charge of that task, with assistance. The vegetables were donated by a local restaurant, a food pantry and Open Table MDI.
Volunteer Kelly Roos was doing her best to coordinate the flurry of friendly folks doing the filling. With people grabbing a container, checking their list, rushing from pew to pew filling it, having another person check the items with the list, placing the full container in the lobby and grabbing another, many hands made light work.
From start to finish, the filling took just about an hour.
“Every year is a challenge,” said Roos, reflecting on the last three years she has been involved. “I love just seeing everybody come together, especially in the struggles of today. This is a joy.”
No one at the church could recall how many years the food basket drive has been happening.
“I’ve been in the church 20 years and it was happening before then,” said Donna Beals, “but, not to this level.”
She recalls there being about 40 baskets a couple of decades ago. In the last few years, the number has remained steadily around 250, according to Roos.
It takes a village to make it all work with donations of food from students at the Bar Harbor and Mount Desert schools, the church and local businesses, including Hannaford’s and island banking institutions.
“This is a huge community effort,” said Pastor Rob Benson. “We feel privileged to be able to host it. There is no way one organization would be able to pull this off. What I love about it is everybody can help out.”
Kindergarten through eighth grade students at Conners Emerson team up to decorate the boxes and bags with personal touches of feathers, colorful turkeys and cheerful sayings. One box had tree limbs and colorful branches poking out the side and over the top with large words on front declaring, “We are tree-mend-ously Thankful.”
On Sunday, members of the church sorted the donations into the pews and organized boxes and bags in the lobby in preparation for the packing.
“It was amazing how smooth it went and how happy everyone was,” said Roos. “I think paying it forward is such a good thing to do. It really fills my heart.”
Even though there were hundreds of full containers, they were not yet complete. Pies were delivered later in the day from individuals and bakeries. Turkeys and other meat, or vouchers for them, were being picked up on Tuesday.
Some of the baskets would to be distributed to the housing communities, Westside and Bar Harbor Food pantries by Wednesday. Others would remain at the church for folks to retrieve.
“And there will be some that don’t get picked up,” said Benson, explaining those people will get a call and/or have the items delivered.
There also were people filling at the church on Monday who would be receiving the baskets for their holiday. For Benson, the fact that was not obvious among those participating made the filling just as meaningful as the act of giving.
“The distinction between giver and taker sort of melts away,” he said. “We don’t have that a lot in our society.”