Free Thanksgiving Supper to be Held at Second Baptist Church

2017 Photo: Enjoying a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus are Bill and Arlene Gibson during the free Thanksgiving dinner at Second Baptist Church. The famous holiday couple took time from their busy schedule to stop by the church and spread cheer throughout the community. (Photo courtesy of Santa and Mrs. Claus)

By Lura Jackson

 

For the fifth consecutive year, a free Thanksgiving supper will be held at Second Baptist Church and all community members from the St. Croix Valley and the extended area are whole-heartedly welcomed to attend. This year’s supper is being organized by Bill and Arlene Gibson in their ongoing tradition of offering wholesome meals for all who wish to participate.

Every year the number of meals served at the event grows, Bill Gibson shares. The most number of meals served was in excess of 900, and this year he is anticipating serving even more based on the responses he has received. Word is continuing to grow each year, with people coming from as far away as Moncton, N.B. and New Hampshire - and all points in-between - to join in the communal feast, either as individuals or with their families.

“It’s not about the headcount,” Gibson said of why he and his wife labor each year to coordinate the massive event. “All it takes is one individual that wouldn’t be able to have a Thanksgiving meal or that doesn’t have a family to share it with. They’re family when they come down.”

Along with the number of meals served, the number of volunteers and donations also grows each year. According to Gibson, in the first year, they had seven turkeys donated, followed by about 19-20 in the following years. This year, 39 turkeys have been donated so far. On the volunteer side, some helpers have been manning their stations every year since they began. Others are offering their services for the first time in response to how well-received the dinners are to the people that participate in them. Every church in the valley will be represented by at least one volunteer this year. Other volunteers include members of the Calais High School basketball and volleyball teams.

“I can’t believe the number of people that have come forward in this little valley,” Gibson enthused. “This has been a great year. I’m just amazed.”

Putting on an event in which as many as 1,300 meals will be served – which is what Gibson is aiming for this year – requires a huge amount of planning. After having accomplished the Thanksgiving meals year after year, as well as their free Easter meals, the Gibsons have their organization well in hand.

“My wife has a spreadsheet,” Bill said, referring to Arlene. “We have to follow it to keep up.” Every night, the Gibsons spend hours breaking down the turkeys with great care. The meat is carefully stored in anticipation of the big event. Turkeys aren’t the only key component of the traditional Thanksgiving supper, and the Gibsons spend the year collecting stuffing, mashed potatoes, vegetables and dessert supplies.

For Bill, holding the event is both a challenge in regard to his personal health problems as well as an inspiration. “This is the only thing keeping me going,” he said, expressing how being able to offer people a place to have a meal when they might not otherwise have one is deeply meaningful to him.

Donations have been coming in steadily, but there are still costs unmet. Gibson is hoping to have a total of 50 turkeys for the feast this year to make sure there is enough for everyone that wants to come. Donations can be made at Grampie Bill’s Place when it is open. There will be donations for the Irene Chadbourne Ecumenical Food Pantry accepted at the event itself.

 

The free supper will take place on Thanksgiving. There will be deliveries made to any person, business or organization in the Calais area that would like to share in the meal but can’t make it to the Second Baptist Church. Deliveries will begin at 10 a.m. Call the Gibsons at 454-8649 to request one of these dinners. The meal itself will run from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the church, or until the food runs out.