Archive for Tuesday, December 24, 2013

To put on Christmas Day dinner, a small army needed

December 24, 2013


With an estimated 1,000 people to feed, someone must gather mountains of food, create partnerships with more than a dozen businesses and round up a couple hundred volunteers to be there Christmas Day.

If you go:

First United Methodist Church, 946 Vermont St.

Dinner served 11 a.m. - 2 p.m.

For delivery, call 785-841-1516 after 6 a.m. Christmas Day

To coordinate its annual Yuletide feast at First United Methodist Church, these are the tasks that the Community Christmas Day Dinner Committee, an ad hoc group of nine core volunteers, takes on each year.

It's all worth it Wednesday, when the committee dishes out the eats to anyone who wants them from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 946 Vermont St.

One coordinator, Kent Ely, chuckled at the size of the task compared to that of his volunteer group: "I don't know how it works so well sometimes," he said.

But most members have been doing it so long — 20 years, according to another volunteer, Brower Burchill — that everything has long been figured out.

"We are so well organized, it rolls like clockwork," he said.

Most of the planning for the dinner doesn't begin until the fall, although after every dinner held, the committee convenes in January for a debriefing session, where they identify what went right and wrong, Burchill said. From there, months of nothing, until Thanksgiving time, Ely said, when the committee places its first orders of supplies.

This year, the committee called on the public to provide 50 12-pound turkeys, 35 boneless 5-pound hams and pies, according to organizer Deb Engstrom.

Over a dozen businesses, as well as First United Methodist Church, are relied on for supplying and preparing the meat and other foods. M & M Bakery thaws the turkeys in its walk-in refrigerator, Bigg's Barbecue cooks the turkeys and delivers them Christmas morning, Party America supplies utensils and plates, Sunrise Garden Center donates poinsettias and Red Lyon Tavern's got the ice, Burchill said.

Then comes Christmas morning, when calls for delivery — there were over 600 last year — start pouring in at 6 a.m. Over 400 are expected to sit down for dinner at the church, Ely said.

Burchill said the committee doesn't have enough time in the preceding weeks to sign up volunteers, so the committee simply hopes enough people show up, which usually isn't a problem.

"When Christmas day comes, we end up with an army," Ely said. "I would guess [up to] 300 volunteers helping out between the preparation, the deliveries being made."

And once the turkey's cut and everyone starts digging in, Ely marvels at the neighborly atmosphere.

"For me, it's the opportunity to be a part of the community," he said. "I've been in the dining room down there at the church with millionaires sharing a meal with someone with the clothes on their back and that's all they have and they're enjoying each other's company."


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