KITTERY, Maine - Fifty six years ago, Public Health Nurse Esther Linscott began distributing bags of food to elderly shut-ins and the town's less fortunate residents. Linscott's daughter Barbara Moulton said she remembers her mother coming home, pulling food out of the refrigerator and going back into the community to distribute it.
Moulton, 71, along with her late sister Joanne Reams, who passed away in November, took the reigns from their mother to carry on the holiday tradition - one that evolved to include not only dinners for two holidays a year, Thanksgiving and Christmas, but Christmas gifts as well.
"I look forward to it every year," Moulton said, when asked why she organizes the event. "I look forward to making children have a nice Christmas."
Though she has plenty of volunteers, Moulton said the work "is not easy" without the help of her sister.
"For the past few years, she's done all the paperwork and the computer work and everything and I did a lot of the running around and stuff. Now I have to do all the computer work, and the running around too," Moulton said, laughing.
On Wednesday, volunteers from the local schools, civic clubs and the community were busy loading plastic bags, each identified with a number indicating which family it will go to. Each was full of clothing, toys, gift certificates and other welcome presents.
On Thursday, they spent the morning packing "baskets" - boxes actually - full of Christmas dinner food.
Some 96 holiday baskets will go to families in the community and include food for dinners. The Christmas baskets include gifts as well. The gifts are unwrapped, but wrapping paper is supplied for parents.
Moulton calls each of the families and residents to ask them if they want to receive a basket. On Friday, the families pick up their baskets at the First Christian Church at Kittery Point and volunteers deliver the baskets of food to elderly shut-ins throughout the community.
With the rising price of gas and oil, the need for the holiday baskets has increased, said Moulton.
"A lot of these people are not destitute, and they're making it," she said. "But with the holidays, the price of gas for the car, oil, there's just nothing left for the children."
The donations of gifts and food come from community members, local stores and organizations.
"It always comes in, it always comes in," Moulton said. "All I have to do is ask."
Parent Teacher Association member Beth Gilbert played an important role in finding volunteers to help, said Moulton.
Gilbert said donating to and organizing the holiday baskets is very much a community effort, with volunteers of all ages, including PTA members, school students, town councilors, retired residents, members of the Kittery Art Association and local churches all pitching in.
She estimates about 50 volunteers have stepped in to organize the baskets, not to mention all the people and organizations that have donated to them.
Kristi Mathieson, a PTA member, was just one of those volunteers pitching in Wednesday.
"I'm just trying to help the community as much as possible," she said. "It's a nice way to help out."
Rotary Club of Kittery President David Gooch was among the volunteers packing black plastic bags full of toys Wednesday. The Rotary Club helped out by donating toys to the baskets.
Gooch said that today, one room of the church will look like a big "black bag city" and another room will be brimming with boxes full of food.
"It's a well exercised effort here," he said about the many volunteers that help out.