GLADSTONE - Memorial United Methodist Church pastor Rev. Elizabeth Hill was all smiles as she flitted from table to table, greeting the guests who turned out to enjoy the ninth annual Community Christmas Dinner served on Christmas afternoon at her church.
"It's just wonderful seeing all these people who wouldn't have any place to go on Christmas," she beamed. "There are so many people who are very lonely this time of year and this is a wonderful place to go and enjoy a wonderful dinner and visit with each other."
Rev. Hill, who came to pastor the church from Detroit three years ago, said she is familiar with community Christmas dinners, but the local project is a first for her.
Mary and Richard “Dick” Willis were first-time guests at the Community Christmas Dinner at Memorial United Methodist Church Tuesday. Serving the couple is volunteer Lisa Nelson. (Daily Press photo by Dorothy McKnight)
"I've been to other dinners over the years, but this is the only one I've seen that's served on Christmas Day," she said. "It's wonderful to have so many people who are willing to come out on Christmas Day and volunteer to be a part of this."
Alice Butch, who has helped coordinate the event since it began in 2004, said a total of 198 pounds of turkey (14 in all) and two hams were provided for the meal, in addition to 100 pounds of potatoes and 12 "very large" boxes of dressing.
According to Butch, much of the food, including the meat, is donated by area individuals and businesses. The rest of the cost is covered by donations from the community.
"When we first began doing this, we started out with $1,000 in seed money and we've been working off of that along with all the donations we have," she said.
Each of the seven churches - Memorial, Trinity Episcopal, All Saints Catholic, Community Church of Christ, First Lutheran Church, Harbor Lights Church of God, and United Evangelical Covenant Church - not only provided volunteers, each donated $50 to help offset expenses.
Julie Aschbacher, who coordinated the take-out service, said requests for home deliveries were between 150-160 meals.
"This is the most deliveries we've ever had," she said. "The most we've ever delivered before was 75. This year it's more than doubled."
For many, the dinner is more than a meal.
"It's more than giving people a nice meal," said Memorial's administrative assistant Lisa Myers. "They also enjoy good fellowship. And I believe it's as much fun for all the people who are volunteering as is it is for those who come for the meal."
Two of the guests, Mary and Richard "Dick" Willis, were grateful to have the opportunity to enjoy the dinner for the first time. She expressed the sentiment that after years of "giving" to make a merry Christmas for others, she and her husband were happy to be on the receiving end."
Volunteers began working days in advance of the dinner to make the event go as smoothly as possible. Butch said 32 volunteers set up Memorial's dining room over the weekend and more than 60 volunteers were on hand before and during the dinner to help prepare the food in the kitchen, make deliveries, serve the meal and clean up afterwards.
Any remaining food was expected to be delivered to the Escanaba Salvation Army to use in the facility's Friendship Kitchen.