Positive edition

Easter dinner at St. Peter's Episcopal Church is a community celebration

Adas Yoshuron volunteers, friends and businesses partners put on holiday feast
By Susan Mustapich | May 05, 2017
Photo by: Susan Mustapich The dining hall at St. Peter's Episcopal Church on Easter Sunday 2017 is filled with food and friendship.

Rockland — This Easter Sunday, a chef from a local restaurant and a large staff of volunteers served up a special holiday meal, with ingredients donated by 16 local restaurants, supermarkets, bakeries and businesses, in the parish hall at St. Peter's Episcopal Church.

Many of the volunteers are members of the Adas Yoshuron Synagogue in Rockland, which has a long tradition of serving Easter and Christmas meals. The tradition goes back decades, and provides volunteers from local churches, who staff the community kitchen on Thanksgiving, and many Saturdays and Sundays year-round, the time to celebrate their major religious holidays.

At the center of the volunteer-run event is Lisa Breheny, who, for 15 years, has coordinated Easter and Christmas meals at St. Peter's, and a monthly Sunday lunch. While Breheny's involvement initially started with organizing the synagogue's volunteers, over the years she has inspired local businesses to become full partners year-round.

This year's chef was Brian Beggarly, owner of Boyton-McKay Food Co. in Camden, and former chef at Natalie's and Primo. Before that, Kerry Alterio, owner of Cafe Miranda in Rockland, served as chef for more than six years.

Appetizers and soups included two sides of Winter Harbor salmon from Ducktrap River of Maine, Deviled Eggs from Black Parrot/Fog Bar & Cafe, chowder from Graffam Brothers Seafood Market, cheese from State of Maine Cheese, and crab dip and crackers from the Waterworks Restaurant.

The main course of spiral hams and meats was provided by Hannaford Supermarket, Shaws Supermarket and Maine Street Meats in Rockland. Sides of mashed potatoes came from the Waterfront Restaurant in Camden and the Samoset Resort.

Decorated cakes and sweets to finish off the meal were provided by In Good Company of Rockland, Sweet Sensations in Rockport, Dot's of Lincolnville and Market Basket of Rockport.

Wallace Tents contributed a warming oven and trays; discounts on white tablecloths from the Rockport Food Service and plants from The Green Thumb transformed the dining room for the special event.

More than 15 years ago, when Breheny took over as the coordinator of Adas Yoshuron's volunteers for St. Peter's community kitchen, she energized the tradition of service by inviting local restaurants and businesses to participate by loaning their chefs and staff and donating food. Over the years, the owners of restaurants and businesses have donated generously, Breheny said, and have become true partners in creating meals at the community kitchen with her and the other synagogue volunteers.

She remembers the first Sunday dinner she coordinated 15 years ago. It was Cinco de Mayo, and she thought about getting restaurants involved. She recalled that Park Street Grille in Rockland made refried beans, and Denny's in Rockport donated ice cream.

Christmas has always been the highlight of the year for everyone involved.

"When it comes to Christmas, it's a special time for people, and they want to do something for the community," Breheny said. "There are over 50 volunteers who come out for Christmas. The synagogue is really the heart of it. As with anything that goes on and on, it has expanded."

Breheny explained that, over the years, more and more people from outside the synagogue have come to volunteer on the major holidays. The number of community members who come to St. Peter's for Christmas and Easter has more than doubled since she started, she said.

Years ago, when about 60 people attended Christmas dinner, appetizers were set out on a table, and people would help themselves. Now, nearly 150 people will share the Christmas meal, with volunteers serving appetizers, soups, main courses, sides, drinks and desserts to every table, "like it's a restaurant," she said.

The people who come to the holiday meals are drawn by more than the food. It's the friendship and the community, according to Breheny, that keeps people coming back. Over the years, Breheny has been grateful to see those who come to the holiday dinners over and over, and to hear from them about family, births, first Communions, and sadly, sometimes deaths.

Breheny attributes that community to St. Peter's Episcopal Church. "Everyone who is associated with the church really cares about their parishioners. I feel privileged to be involved," she said.

Breheny has a well planned system for coordinating the big holiday dinners, and the year-round Sunday meals. She has a checklist of tasks, and reaches out to synagogue members and friends who enjoy volunteering. At the same time, she checks in with certain restaurants for appetizers and desserts, and The Green Thumb, Seasons Downeast and, in past years, Hoboken Gardens, for plants to decorate the dining room at Christmas and Easter, and, while it was in business, Planet Toys donated children's gifts.

For Christmas, Mainely Poultry has donated enough turkeys to feed everyone at the meal. For Easter, Hannaford has provided spiral hams for 15 years, and Shaws donates gift certificates. For Easter, Ducktrap River of Maine donates sides of salmon.

The restaurants and businesses are ready partners. After all the years of working together, when Breheny reaches out to put together the menu for the major holidays, all she has to ask is, "Are you in?"

"The good thing is that, doing this as long as I have, everybody knows that I'm coming," she said.

And sometimes, Breheny doesn't even have to ask. Cafe Miranda owner Kerry Alterio has served as chef for the community dinners and contributed for many years. About eight years ago, he walked up to Breheny at an art opening, and told her he was thinking about her. When Breheny asked why, he said, "Because Christmas is coming up."

Another part of Breheny's work with St. Peter's and the synagogue volunteers has evolved into the year-round partnership with chefs of well-known restaurants. Melissa Kelly and Price Kushner of Primo, Brian Hill of Francine Bistro in Camden and John Stowe of Rustica Italian Restaurant in Rockland have all adopted a Sunday meal each year.

Years ago, Kushner was providing desserts for the community kitchen, and approached Breheny with the idea that Primo would like to do more. Now, each January, Kelly arrives with about 20 staff and takes command of the kitchen for a Sunday. On that day, the community kitchen and dining room transforms into a mini Primo, from kitchen organization and food preparation to table settings and service.

In the summers, when area restaurants are busy with the tourist season, Breheny mixes it up a bit. Som times she will do pizzas and salads. In July, she does hot dogs and hamburgers, with French and Brawn in Camden providing discounts on the meats.

For a Sunday meal, Breheny asks the business partners to provide for 50 people, though she knows that an average of 30 people attend the monthly meals. Part of what the volunteers do at the holiday dinners, as well as the monthly dinners, is pack to-go containers, so that everyone who attends can take food home.

"I want people to feel that they can have seconds or thirds, and take food home," she said. "We're spreading the love."

Loaves and Fishes is the formal name of the weekend lunch program at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, served in the parish hall at 12:30 p.m. on Saturdays and 1 p.m. on Sundays. Meals are served at no cost to guests. For more information about the meals, go to stpetersrockland.org, visit St. Peter's Episcopal Church on facebook, or call 594-8191.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | May 05, 2017 15:14

Twenty seven years of faithful service to Christians during their most important holidays says something about the faithfulness of our Jewish community. May we never forget the horror of the holocaust and the pain they still feel because of it.  Shalom.

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