ALSTEAD — Preparing, packaging and delivering more than 200 meals is a full-day process. On Thursday, it began around 8 a.m., when Richard Lincourt arrived at a small kitchen on Bragg Lane, a converted garage.
A volunteer with Fall Mountain Friendly Meals, Lincourt pulled some ground beef out of the fridge, took out breadcrumbs and other ingredients, opened cans and set up cooking stations. Other volunteers arrived and assumed various tasks.
Over the next couple hours, they whipped up large quantities of meatloaf, mashed potatoes and stewed tomatoes. By 11:30, Lincourt and a few other volunteers had driven a few blocks to the Alstead Fire Station, where they carried large steam-table pans into a meeting hall filled with a couple dozen hungry seniors.
That was just the first round. As lunch ended, a small line of volunteers packed the remaining food into Styrofoam containers, put the containers in brown paper bags, put the bags into boxes and carried the boxes to parking lots.
Soon, seven or eight drivers would fan out across Acworth, Alstead, Charlestown, Langdon and Walpole, delivering about 220 meals to seniors living alone, people with disabilities, those recovering from illness and others in need.
“It’s a full day,” Lincourt said. “You start at 8, and you usually wrap up at 3:30, 4.”
Fall Mountain Friendly Meals serves lunch and makes deliveries every Tuesday and Thursday, an effort involving multiple people across a range of tasks.
A 68-year-old Charlestown resident, Lincourt has volunteered there for about five years, first as a delivery driver and now mostly in the kitchen.
Not that he spends the rest of the week resting. Lincourt also sits on Charlestown’s planning board and conservation commission and volunteers at the Springfield Humane Society across the river in Vermont. He said he probably averages about 30 hours per week, all told.
“For me, volunteering is partly paying back, because I’ve been so fortunate,” Lincourt said. “And partly it’s just the satisfaction of doing something nice for someone else, or animals.”
Lincourt and his wife, Elaine, moved to Charlestown in 2012 after retiring from jobs in the Chicago area. Both natives of small-town New York, they quickly felt at home, Lincourt said.
“The most unexpected thing was how open people are,” he said. “You meet someone, and in five minutes you have their whole life story. In Chicago, people are much more reserved.”
Lincourt grew up in Walton, N.Y., and attended Cornell University, 80 miles away in Ithaca. He had aspirations of teaching biology, but switched his major to food science after a summer job at a Kraft plant in Walton.
After college, he spent 10 years working in quality assurance at the same plant, which produced Breakstone’s dairy products. For part of that time, he also served in an engineering battalion of the N.Y. Army National Guard. Then, in the early 1980s, a spot opened up at Kraft’s research and development center in Glenview, Ill., outside Chicago. Lincourt worked there until retiring in 2010.
Lincourt mostly dealt with cultured dairy products, searching for ways to make cottage cheese, sour cream or yogurt tastier, more efficient to produce, longer-lasting or safer.
The Lincourts retired at the same time and decided to move back east. “We wanted to get back to a small-town environment,” Lincourt said. “New York taxes were pretty bad, so we decided we’d look around.” They had enjoyed visiting northern New England and settled on Charlestown after a real-estate agent showed them a house with a great view into Vermont.
A food scientist
in the cook shack
Lincourt has found various ways to contribute locally. He and Elaine have six rescue dogs, and, in Illinois, they volunteered with an organization that transported dogs for adoption. So he started walking dogs and helping with maintenance at the Springfield Humane Society.
His interest in land-use regulations, meanwhile, grew out of a project the Charlestown Planning Board approved near his new house. Curious, Lincourt began attending meetings. He became an alternate, then first won election to the board several years ago.
Lincourt joined Friendly Meals about five years ago, after learning the organization needed a backup driver.
The regular lunches and Meals on Wheels program began 30 years ago this fall, said Mary Lou Huffling of Alstead, the organization’s director. At that point, the Fall Mountain Food Shelf — which Huffling co-founded — had been around for seven or eight years, she said.
“We realized there were a lot of elderly people that … weren’t eating good, didn’t have enough food,” she said. “But even if we brought food from the food shelf, they didn’t cook it.”
The meals and deliveries also had a social component.
“There wasn’t any place in town — only church — for people to get together,” she said. Many seniors lived alone and isolated in a rural area, and the meals provided a sense of community. “We figured it was food for the body and food for the spirit,” she said.
That social component continues. Before Thursday’s lunch, Huffling brought out a birthday cake for a diner’s 80th birthday. She mentioned someone who was about to start dialysis. She offered prayers for military personnel and veterans, and for several locals going through hard times.
Today, Friendly Meals volunteers are assembling more than 700 Thanksgiving baskets, including turkeys, to distribute to local families. On Tuesday, it’ll hold its 31st Thanksgiving lunch.
“Some people have food insecurity. They can’t afford food,” Lincourt said. “Some people can’t cook. Some people, it’s just nice to have somebody visit them and somebody to talk to, because they’re lonely.”
After about six months as a backup driver, Lincourt replaced a regular driver who retired. Then, about three years ago, an opportunity opened to start working in the kitchen.
He jumped at the chance. While in Illinois, he had taken part-time cooking classes for three years.
“In food science, I saw the chemical interactions of the components of food, the interactions with heat,” he said, “… but what I wasn’t really seeing was the end use of the product. And I got kind of interested in that, so I signed up for an introductory course in culinary arts.”
That background has paid off. Huffling said Lincourt brings a culinary know-how to his work in the kitchen — along with a presence “like the Energizer Bunny.”
“He’s just not a complainer, very happy to do anything,” she said. “He enjoys the cooking, the serving.”
As eagerly as others praise Lincourt’s volunteer work, Lincourt himself is reluctant. He initially declined an interview with The Sentinel, but reconsidered because he thought it would draw attention to volunteerism.
Last week, Lincourt was honored with an Outstanding Volunteer Service Award from Volunteer N.H., a nonprofit organization that promotes service work. There was a ceremony, but Lincourt said he didn’t attend.
“I find those things a little embarrassing,” he said. “… I’m in volunteering to be a volunteer, to help others, and I don’t need to be recognized.”
And he doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon. “I’m gonna let myself wear out,” he said, “and it’ll tell me when it’s time.”