ORONO, Maine — Hidden behind the public library in Orono is a historic white building. Decades ago, it was the school on Birch Street -- but even though those days are long gone, it's still helping the community.
Inside the building on Thursday, November 21, a week before Thanksgiving, is an unlikely group of students, police officers, and Orono town officials. Walking around the creaking floors, they set up trays with steaming Thanksgiving food, ready to feed whoever decides to come in through the doors.
"We came here, we set all the pies out," Meghan Murray, a senior at Orono High School, explained to NEWS CENTER Maine. "We put whipped cream on all the pies, closed them out, and (got them) ready to go."
Murray helped out with this annual dinner -- which is in its 26th year -- for the first time last autumn, and she said that although she's graduating and heading to Rhode Island for college, she's hoping to keep coming back.
For Orono's assistant town manager, Belle Ryder, seeing young volunteers come out to help with this dinner, which serves the elderly, is pretty special.
"It's not necessarily two groups that get to talk together all the time," Ryder explained. "They have their own separate circles of social life, so being able to get the two of them together is a nice way to bridge that gap."
The dinner also helps to bridge another gap that can be hard to close -- that between law enforcement officials and the greater community. The event was actually named after the late Captain Scott Scripture, who worked with the Orono Police Department for decades and loved bringing the community together.
Terry Greenier, an Orono town councilor, says the dinner allows people to realize that police are no different than everyone else.
"They're there to make sure they're protecting us as a community," Greenier expressed, adding he's happy they take on this community event each year. "By showing people that they're actually relatable and no different, it makes them feel more comfortable."
The connection this dinner brings to the entire Orono community translates to life-long citizens like Frank B. Morrison Jr.
"It's a great thing! I come out almost every year," Morrison Jr. expressed to NEWS CENTER Maine with a smile. "You don't see these people all year! But it's such a nice community thing, all they do to put this on."
And for citizens who can't make it out to one of the cafeteria-style tables to eat dinner, there are alternative options. For the past few years, police officers have been delivering meals to people's doorsteps. Now, the dinner serves about 100 people in-house and accounts for around 200 deliveries in the community.
"It just makes us feel good to see them feeling so good, especially if they can't get out to get their own Thanksgiving dinner," said Orono police officer Courtney James after her first trip bringing meals and different flavored pies to apartments at a complex. "It just goes to show that when something big does happen, we're already in a close relationship -- so it's just that much easier to bring everyone together."
Most of all, the feeling of gratitude and a sense of belonging is what makes this event worth it every year, for nearly the last three decades.
"Not everybody has a huge family anymore, but Orono is one of those great communities that can kind of feel like a big family," Ryder explained.
And, as the saying goes -- sometimes the family you choose can be even more important than the one you were born into.