For South Portland volunteers, giving thanks is easy as pie

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SOUTH PORTLAND — It may have been windy and snowy, but it was all hands on deck Tuesday evening as volunteers helped prepare 60 Thanksgiving pies for Portland’s Preble Street Food Pantry.

Event organizer Ellen Clancy bakes 19 pies at home on Tuesday. The rest of the preparation and baking was done at the First Congregational Church, 301 Cottage Road. At peak time, about 25 volunteers were helping with everything from peeling apples to assembling boxes and packaging pies.

With two commercial ovens that could each cook eight pies at a time, the work was done by 7 p.m., leaving Clancy and her family enough time to package the pies in boxes donated by Scratch Bakery and move them to her home, where they were stored overnight.

On Thursday, the pies will feed members of the community for whom food is scarce. On average, Preble Street’s largest of three soup kitchens, the Resource Center kitchen at 252 Oxford St. in Portland, serves 1,000 people a day.

It feels natural to give back to the community at a time of year when people are taught to count their blessings, Clancy said.

It all started for her 16 years ago, when she, her husband and two sons moved to South Portland from New York. That meant as the distance between them and her extended family grew, and the number of seats around the dinner table on Thanksgiving shrunk.

“We used to have these big family dinners, but since we were far away, that kind of stopped,” Clancy said.

But she knew there were still mouths to feed, even if they weren’t her family’s.

“I had the time and the inclination to do something,” Clancy said.

So Clancy and her family volunteered at the United Way of Greater Portland, baking a few pies and serving food on Thanksgiving Day.

What struck her was not only the level of homelessness in their community, but how her son, who was 4 at the time, at first would not come inside with her because he was “afraid of seeing a homeless person,” Clancy said.

The next year, they did the same thing, only this time, he was at the door greeting people as they arrived for meals.

“I was very impressed that one exposure the year before helped him get over his fear of homelessness,” she said. “I’m sure it was indelible in his mind that these people deserve courtesy and respect. … It’s a very good thing to expose your children to.”

Clancy was inspired to keep the tradition, and momentum, going.

The following year she organized a pie-making event at the First Congregational Church, where she and members of the community turned out 40 pies.

Every year since then she has baked more than a dozen pies for the holiday in the comfort of her own kitchen to deliver to Preble Street.

“Knowing that we do this every year I’m sure makes some kind of residual impression on my sons (who are now 20 and 23),” Clancy said. “You involve them when they’re kids and they have that sense their whole life.”

This year, she brought the community event back and plans to continue to do so for years to come, with the hope it will inspire people of all ages to help those less fortunate.

“That’s a good lesson for kids,” she said. “South Portland is a very giving community. … We’ve been very fortunate in our lives. It’s important to give back.”

Henry Dorsley, Luke Stickney and Luke MaCarthur, all students at Greely High School in Cumberland, helped out on Tuesday. Dorsley and Stickney last year started a group of 25-30 students who regularly volunteer at Preble Street.

“It really builds perspective,” Dowling said.

As baking wrapped up, Clancy said she was happy with the turnout, given the day’s snowstorm. She said she hopes the pies will bring joy to people.

“If someone’s down on their luck, having a pie might remind them of a better time,” she said.

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

Carolyn Curtis, left, and Ellen Clancy peel apples to fill some of the Thanksgiving pies baked at First Congregational Church in South Portland on Tuesday, Nov. 20, for Preble Street.

Ang Griffiths checks on pies baking in the oven at First Congregational Church on Cottage Road in South Portland.

Greely High School students Henry Dorsky, Luke Stickney and Luke MacArthur, who regularly volunteer at Preble Street, helped deliver pies baked in South Portland.

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