An annual shopping trip that is about much more than a free ride

During the 11 years that St. George native Cherie Yattaw has worked at the St. George Town Office she has worn a number of different hats—most notably assessing clerk, planning board secretary and now office manager. But the one she enjoys wearing most is the one she will be donning this coming Friday, November 10 when she accompanies those signed up for the annual senior shopping trip on the bus to Portland.

“Sometimes I wear a stocking cap or reindeer ears—one year I wore snowflakes and snowflake glasses,” she admits. “Everyone looks forward to the trip and I look forward to it and the girls in the office look forward to it.”

The bus, which holds 50, is paid for by the town through the Parks and Recreation budget. It picks the shoppers up at the Town Office parking lot at 7am and returns to drop them off at 6pm. Christmas movies are shown both on the way down to Portland and on the way back.
“The first year I was here I didn’t go, but then the Parks and Recreation director at the time, Wayne Judkins, arranged it for the office staff to go along and so I went,” Yattaw recalls. Very  quickly she saw the potential for making the trip into something a bit more festive than just a welcome opportunity for people who have transportation needs to get to Portland for some holiday shopping.

“On that first trip I got thinking, you know, it would be nice to give everybody a little gift—just some little thing because you don’t know what everyone’s situation is and sometimes it’s just fun to have a secret Santa, too. So the following year, it was in September that I started and I wrote letters and then I made phone calls to places like Hannaford and Shaws and Walmart.  And all the banks got letters and calls, too. And they all were so giving. They gave recycle bags, pens, paper, calendars, pencils—I got a wide variety of things. And then I made something for each of the shoppers, like one year I made them potholders, another year I made them scarves and last year I made them all teddy bears.”

A few days before the trip Yattaw brings everything she has gathered and then the office staff gets together and fills up gift bags, which will be handed out at the end of the trip. “Even the bus driver gets a bag,” Yattaw says. “And I also make special holiday pins—sometimes with beads, sometimes with things like snowmen. A couple of the ladies who go on the trip wear all the pins they’ve received each year right across their chests. And the last couple of years we’ve handed out necklaces made of flashing holiday lights, which were a big hit.”

The itinerary begins with a stop for coffee or breakfast at the McDonald’s in Brunswick. “It’s Veterans’ Day, so we see lots of Veterans there,” Yattaw notes. “We give them the holiday pins I’ve made for the trip and talk to them and hug them and thank them for their service.” After a pause she adds, “I love our country, I love our town—it just makes you feel so proud to see the veterans  and to know they are proud of what they’ve done for us.”

Next the bus heads for the Christmas Tree Shop. “That’s the highlight! We’re there for about an hour-and-a-half to two hours—it takes quite a while to get through there with 50 people. Then we go to the Maine Mall for lunch where a place called the Country Buffet is very popular with our group.”

Marden’s is the next stop after the Maine Mall. “A lot of the ladies really like that because they can get some good buys there for quilting needs—a lot of them belong to the Grange, so this is a chance for them to get out and get materials so they can make things for the craft shows.”
Target is usually the final shopping stop of the day. “The bus is full when we get back to St. George, both in the baggage compartments below and in the main cabin.”

Yattaw, who unabashedly admits that she is “a hugger,” acknowledges that this annual senior shopping trip is something she especially loves doing. “I love making things and I just like to see people smile and be happy. Going down to Portland it is very chatty on the bus. This is a chance for people to reconnect with one another, a chance for fellowship. And it’s nice not to have to worry about anything for the day. It’s just a time to be together.”

There is still time for seniors to sign up for this year’s shopping trip to Portland. Contact the Town Office at 372-6363.—JW

PHOTO: Julie Wortman

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