Dining and decorating at Preble Street

Holiday parties are all about food, music and gifts, and for many of us who are guilty of taking our good fortune for granted, not always in that order. They’re about getting together with like-minded people and celebrating in style. They’re about appreciating what we’ve been able to give, and about what’s being given to us. And times being what they are, most businesses and organizations are cutting back on the invitations and festive offerings. However, this not the case at the annual Preble Street Resource Center Holiday Party being held this Friday from 11:30-2 p.m.

"As long as we’ve been operating as a soup kitchen, or in that capacity, about 20 years now, we’ve held a holiday party for our clients," said development coordinator, Melanie McKean. "We’ve always been blessed with very generous donors and supporters and have over 100 different entities who turn this event into a community project." Not surprisingly, the number of clients who will be joining the party – it’s for clients, not the general public – this Friday has gone up significantly to a staggering 700 adults, and the staff is ready.

In his second year overseeing the three parties under the Preble Street umbrella (there is also a party at the teen center for over 100 and a party for approximately 60 women at the Florence House), assistant director of in-kind donations, Matt Brown, is in need of goodies for the gift bags. "We still need gloves," Brown, 30, states. "We have hats, toiletries, socks, and other items, but we really need adult gloves for men and women." McKean enthusiastically concurs, "We can take them anytime, too, not just for this party." Gift bags for the woman and teens are supplemented with sweatshirts (hoodies for the latter) and like all holiday parties, decking the halls is a given.

McKean says, "This Friday the entire center – the kitchen, the dining area, the day shelter, will be decorated with handmade decorations from local school kids and, by others, that are, of course, donated. Clients like to help decorate, too. The center is, after all, home to many."

Speaking with the well deserved pride of any event coordinator planning a party of such magnitude, Brown is especially pleased with the full blown turkey dinner the clients will be served Friday. "This is really nice food. A full themed dinner with all the fixings and a substitute for those who don’t care for turkey." Reaping the benefits a major pre-Thanksgiving food drive, leftover turkeys and other donated cash and food items allow the center to go all out.

Clients will arrive at 11:30 instead of the usual noon meal time. After lunch, they’ll line up to receive their gift bags and will go upstairs to the day shelter, where more food will be served. "There’s finger food like sweets, platters of cookies and cake," says Brown. "Oh, and veggie platters, too. Not just sweets," McKean chimed in.

For the second year in a row, clients will be treated to the music of the Peterson Project, a "blues grazz acoustic trio," based out of New Gloucester. McKean says, "The live music thrills the clients and staff with the rich sounds they offer. At other events, we set up a microphone for people to sing and that’s fun too, but this makes this event extra special for all of us."

As the Preble Street staff and volunteers clean up the aftermath of a splendid turkey and music-filled Friday afternoon, I invite all of you to take a moment and join Santa in a tip of his hat to the angels on duty, and in wishing our most impoverished neighbors a safe and healthy holiday season. Come Saturday, there won’t be live music, gift bags, or a special turkey dinner with all the fixings. Just the same long line of hungry people.

The Down Low: While all dining experiences thrill me in some way, this is one situation that instead moves me to tears. The Preble Street Resource Center is serving more people than ever with a machine-like efficient operation that is the soup kitchen, averaging over 1,000 meals per day. The number of people served at the organaztion’s food pantry (a resource for people who have housing, but are still in need of sustenence and other assistance) has more than doubled. McKean states, "In April of 2010, the number of men, women and children served was 2,750, increasing to 4,200 in April of this year."

So, if you can’t make a large cash donation, please reach in your pocket and maybe you’ll find just enough for a pair of new gloves.

For more information about how to donate or volunteer at the Preble Street Resource Center, call 775-0026. Also, check out the unique sound of The Peterson Project on Facebook, or at

Natalie Ladd is a columnist for the Portland Daily Sun. She has over 30 continuous years of corporate and fine-dining experience in all front-of-the-house management, hourly and under-the-table positions. She can be reached at