FALMOUTH — Unable to host the hundreds of guests it usually serves due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Falmouth Congregational Church has taken its Community Supper virtual and will also be distributing meals to home-bound residents.
Now in its 13th year, the dinner has become a town staple, organizer Peggy McGehee said, but while the decision to go virtual for the event was tough, it is worthwhile.
“During this pandemic, we have found that people are feeling isolated and worried,” McGehee said. “We decided we would try and do something.”
The annual Community Supper, usually held at the end of October, brings 750 or more guests to the Congregational Church for a free turkey dinner with all the fixings as a fundraising event for the Falmouth Food Pantry. It brings in around $25,000 in donations each year. The dinner has grown exponentially since the first year it was held, when about $2,000 in donations and 360 diners attended, organizer Nancy Lightbody said.
Concerned about losing the sense of community by the decision to cancel the event, as well as supporting isolated members of the community, the event will be virtual this year.
“We want people to connect, especially with how the pandemic has isolated so many people, a way to feel together still is important,” McGehee said.
A presentation will be broadcast on Channel 2 from 5:30- 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 24 that will feature performances from community members ranging from readings by local authors to musical and art performances from local students. There will also be slide shows and videos of community members.
The backbone of the event, Lightbody said, is the 250 or so volunteers who manage everything from parking to cooking and serving.
“The volunteers and diners are a diverse group from all over town; this event really brings them in to break bread with one another,” Davis said. “People do not talk politics; it is about what they share together that makes it powerful.”
Volunteers and diners alike include church members, everyday citizens, volunteers from the food pantry, town staff, members of the fire and police department and local legislators.
Churches and religious groups that host the event include Falmouth Congregational Church, West Falmouth Baptist Church, Parish of the Holy Eucharist, Foreside Community Church, Episcopal Church of St. Mary, Emmaus Lutheran Church, the Falmouth Jewish community and Vajra Dakini Nunnery.
Charles Bernacchio, a professor of Counselor Education in Rehabilitation Counseling at the University of Southern Maine, sees the value in continuing the annual dinner as an important for people’s well-being, both from a professional standpoint and as a town resident and volunteer cook for the past five years.
“I believe this can be an opportunity that will potentially tap into the resilience of our community while also learning more about our capacity to come together during such a crisis in order to sustain this wonderful celebration and appreciate all that we have in Falmouth,” he said.
According to Bernacchio, the diversity of the event “is multi-faceted and meets the needs of the community in a holistic way.”
“It can have mental health benefits during the pandemic by recognizing the members’ value to the community and spiritually uplifting their disposition by helping them connect with others in the community as they celebrate another year of helping each other,” Bernacchio said. “This provides an alternative that reinforces this connection, helping them spend an evening together with people whom they know and love, virtually, which assures the community the tradition will continue and that they can look forward to getting back together in-person next year.”
The church will deliver 200 meals to home-bound residents, who have already been chosen, from Rivalries restaurant that includes a turkey casserole provided by the Falmouth Congregational Church with apple crisp donated by the restaurant, to home-bound residents. Other residents are encouraged to get take out independently and join the streamed event from home.
“We are super excited about it and I am thrilled they were willing to work around social distancing and think this way because it’s such a big event,” Rivalries co-owner Amy Meader said. “People get really excited and look forward to it, so for that to not happen in any capacity would be such a loss.”