BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — DANVERS — Former Ma Duke’s owner Debby Marticio is still hoping to cook as many as 1,500 free meals with all the fixings for those in need this Thanksgiving, despite losing her Maple Street restaurant last December due to health reasons.
Without her restaurant as a base of operations, she and volunteers are planning to serve the turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce from the American Legion post in Middleton.
“So many people want to help,” said, Marticio, 57, of Danvers. “Fantastic.”
Marticio said at least 25 people have volunteered to cook turkeys, while others have offered to serve or deliver meals at the Augustus P. Gardner American Legion Post 227 at 69 River St.
For six years, Marticio cooked free Thanksgiving meals at Ma Duke’s. She did so last year despite falling behind on her electric bills to the town, which forced the closure of the restaurant for a few weeks in October 2012 when the lights were shut off.
Donations helped her come up with money for a payment plan with the town’s municipal electric division to allow the eatery to reopen and defray the cost of the Thanksgiving meals. She served or delivered 750 free meals. In past years, she has served upward of 1,000 meals, she said.
In December 2012, health reasons forced Marticio to close Ma Duke’s after doctors found and removed a noncancerous 31-pound tumor from her abdomen. The operation put her out of work and forced her to close her establishment. Marticio is now back working at Jimmy’s Famous Roast Beef and Seafood on High Street, where she worked before opening her own place.
When she closed Ma Duke’s, her big regret was “not being able to do Thanksgiving anymore,” she said.
Marticio said she had been searching for the right place to cook the meals, but few were a good fit. Some venues were already serving meals.
Through the use of Facebook, Marticio connected with Kelly Colanto of Beverly, a Danvers native who works for the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department. It was through Colanto that Marticio got use of the Middleton American Legion.
For the past five years, Colanto has helped organize the Ride to Remember motorcycle run from the Onion Town Grill on Water Street to benefit a scholarship fund in memory of her brother, Michael J. MacDonald, who died at age 44 in March 2008 from a genetic heart disease.
Through the motorcycle runs, Colanto knew of a club called the Honorable Few Marine Corps League, and it was through this group and its contacts with the Middleton American Legion post that arrangements were made to use the hall, Colanto said.
Colanto said she was moved to help Marticio because of the generosity and help she got while organizing her motorcycle runs.
“I just saw her (Marticio’s post) on Facebook that she was having a hard time, and something clicked in me, and I just knew I needed to help her,” Colanto said.
Hosting the meal event outside of Danvers is not a problem, Marticio said, because meals are also delivered to people in Danvers, Beverly, Peabody, Salem, Wenham, Lynn and other communities on the North Shore.
Marticio said it is her feeling that demand for the meals will be up over last year. Many meals go to motels in Danvers that house homeless families sheltered there by the state. Marticio has meals delivered to the Lahey Health Behavioral Services facility for boys in Danvers and the Inn Transition sober-living transitional housing program in Peabody.
Prep at the Middleton post will take place from noon to midnight the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Cooking starts at 5 a.m. on Turkey Day, and the meals are served beginning at 10 a.m.
To accomplish the meal, Marticio needs more volunteers and help in the form of cash donations and supplies. Two companies give her a break on the rental of steam table pans, and she is able to get a discount on produce.
“We need everything this year. I don’t have the restaurant to fall back on,” she said.
Those looking to donate to the meal or to volunteer can call Marticio at 978-774-0172. Donations can also be dropped off at Jimmy’s on High Street, she said.
“I really want to do it,” Marticio said of serving the free meals, which she said are an expression of community spirit. “Like I said, I can’t do it without everybody’s help.”
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.