Volunteers are already hard at work preparing for the the St. Marys Area Christmas Day Dinner, an annual event that has been bringing together area residents to celebrate the holiday for 16 years.
Volunteer Vada Liptak founded the event with her friend and former St. Marys resident Shirley Alexander, and continues to be deeply involved in the project. She said the gathering is sponsored by the community, for the community, for people who would otherwise be alone for Christmas dinner or are unable to prepare dinner on their own.
"I feel it's such a worthwhile thing. We don't want anybody to be alone at Christmas. That's why we started it," Liptak said.
The dinner is open to residents from St. Marys, Kersey and Bennetts Valley, and will be held at 12:30 p.m. Dec. 25 at Asbury Hall in the First United Methodist Church, 140 N. St. Marys St., St. Marys. According to Alice Wiesner, a longtime volunteer, the event allows people to enjoy the companionship of others while sharing the Christmas meal together. She emphasized that any member of the community who does not have someone to share a Christmas meal with is welcome, regardless of age or financial status. Over the years, everyone from families to singles to empty-nesters has attended the festivities, which include dinner served family-style, entertainment, an appearance by Santa Claus and prizes.
"It is for everyone, everyone who has nobody around. It is for anybody who would like to come and spend Christmas dinner with somebody," Wiesner said.
She said a significant number of people who have participated in the dinner in previous years now attend the event annually because they get a chance to meet new people and enjoy the food, fellowship and fun.
"It's really very, very friendly," Wiesner said. "Anybody who comes usually comes back the next year."
She emphasized that even though it is held at the Methodist church, it is a nondenominational event open to all. People who are homebound because of health issues or need help getting to the dinner may participate; volunteers will make meal deliveries to those who are homebound or transport people to and from the event.
"Every year, we feed over 400 people, including the deliveries," Wiesner said.
Both ladies credited the event's volunteers with making the annual dinner such a success. Volunteers perform a variety of tasks, including preparing the meat and other foods that will be served, setting and cleaning up, and delivering meals or providing transportation. Currently, about 75 volunteers assist with the St. Marys Area Christmas Day Dinner.
"I was amazed at the amount of people who are willing to give up part of their Christmas day to do that," Wiesner said.
"It is a community effort. It really is."
"We have a lot of good workers," Liptak added.
Reservations for the St. Marys Area Christmas Day Dinner are encouraged; to make reservations or call for a homebound delivery, contact Suzanne at 788-5092, Margie at 787-4659 or Alice at 781-1360. Liptak said walk-ins are also welcome.
"On the last day, at the last hour, we have people who have called in, and we'll take care of them," Liptak said.
Those who would like to donate turkeys, hams, pies or Jell-O salads may call also Alice. People who would like to volunteer to provide transportation or assist in any other way may contact Vada at 834-2230. Monetary gifts may also be made at County National Bank.
To see more on this story, see the Dec. 13 edition of The Daily Press.