Lancaster:Project Homebound Turns 35:Founder Honors Town For Keeping Thanksgiving Meals Alive

Robert Blechl

Nov 23, 2019


Tens of thousands of meals served to those in need.
Thousands of volunteers.
That’s the legacy of Project Homebound, the Thanksgiving home meals program in the North Country for people and families in need,
which celebrates 35 years in 2019 and shows no signs of slowing down.
“Thirty five years is pretty amazing,” said Dan Mitchell, who began the effort by hosting a free Thanksgiving dinner at his restaurant,
the former Olde Susanna’s Restaurant and Lounge in Lancaster, in 1984.
To meet a greater demand, he expanded it the following year to involve home delivery of boxed meals to people in Coos County and
into Vermont.
That demand would grow through the years, and so would the number of volunteers.
In 2015, Mitchell was honored by the state for his efforts.
On Friday evening at Lancaster Town Hall, he gave back by honoring the community with a plaque for keeping the North Country’s
Thanksgiving tradition alive.
“In recognition of the true community spirit and for 35 years of selfless volunteer service to Lancaster and the surrounding North
Country towns, providing annual boxing and delivery of Thanksgiving week groceries to those who may need an extra hand in any
given year,” the plaque reads.
On Friday in Lancaster, Dan Mitchell, founder of Project Homebound, presented the Lancaster area community with a plaque
honoring residents for their volunteerism in the project, which celebrates 35 years in 2019. Left to right: Andrea Curtis, Mitchell,
Jean Oleson, and Heidi Barker. 

“For leaders Christopher Parker, Jean Oleson, Andrea Curtis, Heidi Barker, and the thousands of other helping hands who have
shown the true New Hampshire way with gratefulness, humbleness, and generosity.”
Parker, now retired and living in Florida, was Mitchell’s chef at the restaurant who spearheaded Project Homebound when Mitchell
departed Lancaster in 1993.
After Parker left, the project went from being based out of the restaurant to Lancaster Town Hall.
Taking the helm after Parker was Oleson, retired town clerk of Lancaster. Curtis and Barker are key organizers of Project Homebound.
Each year, on the weekend before Thanksgiving, 150 to 200 volunteers - youth, students, adults, seniors, from across the generations
- turn out to the town hall to pack meals on a Friday evening and deliver them on Saturday morning, with recent years averaging more
than 250 meals to families.
“The community has kept it going and this is applauding the community,” said Mitchell, who is now semi-retired and living in Dover.
“The fascinating thing about this is that it mirrors itself. As demand through the years has gotten bigger, so have the donations. The
thing I’m most proud of is that it’s run on 100 percent donations.”
Each year, from individual donors as well as organization, schools and business donors, some $5,000 to $6,000 in donations are
received, including a large percentage in food contributions.
Mitchell said he is in awe and is proud of the community that was good to him for 10 years before he moved to Plymouth in the 199os
to raise his children, Andrew, 32, who works at the University of New Hampshire, and Darcy Ashey, 31, a kindergarten teachers in
Lisbon, both of whom would accompany their father in the early years making the delivery rounds.
In starting Project Homebound, the intent was to keep it going into the future by building a strong base.

“I tried to build it like a pyramid with broad community support,” said Mitchell. “Oftentimes, well-intentioned projects are built like an
inverted pyramid, and when somebody leaves, it all collapses. I did not want that to happen here.”
The first year, he hosted Thanksgiving dinner at the restaurant, offering free food to whoever walked in.
As Project Homebound evolved into home-delivered meals, it found no shortage of volunteers, who help fill meal boxes and deliver
the food - frozen turkeys, game hens, pies, canned vegetables, and more - to homes in a service area that has also grown, going
beyond Lancaster to include Northumberland, Dalton, Whitefield, Jefferson, and Twin Mountain and across the river into Guildhall,
Lunenburg, and Gilman.
Today, Mitchell, 63, is general manager of a 14-room summer boutique hotel in York Beach, Maine.
Although easing into retirement, Mitchell, like Project Homebound, is not slowing down.
His new effort is called Project New Hampshire and it’s inspired by the North Country community.
It’s an app that can be uploaded to an Android phone and the goal is to end homeless in New Hampshire.
He officially announced it Friday in Lancaster.
“Most of the last 20 years I spent managing homeless shelters,” said Mitchell. “My goal has always been to end homelessness in New
Hampshire because it’s a small enough state. There’s under 2,000 people on any given day, most families.
Of those, half are children, he said.
“Nobody should be homeless,” said Mitchell.
The app allows people to pledge to host one homeless person next year, from noon, Sunday Oct. 18 to noon, Sunday Oct. 25.

Research shows that homeless persons given a place to stay for just a week are better able to get on their feet, he said.
Mitchell, spearheading Project New Hampshire with his own money, is hoping to get 10,000 pledges, and of those, enough people to
make the commitment.
“I’m an optimist,” he said. “I want New Hampshire to be the first state for something other than voting for the first politician. The people
in Project Homebound have given me renewed faith. This is something worthwhile.”