Community Christmas Dinner celebrates 20th year
The annual Park Rapids Community Christmas Dinner has become a tradition for its volunteers. "It's been passed down year after year," said Denny Anderson, an organizer of the event. He enjoys spending his Christmas helping out with the meal, whic...
The annual Park Rapids Community Christmas Dinner has become a tradition for its volunteers.
"It's been passed down year after year," said Denny Anderson, an organizer of the event.
He enjoys spending his Christmas helping out with the meal, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Volunteers don't think of it as a sacrifice.
"We're not giving up anything, really, it's just the satisfaction," Anderson said. "And it's fun.
"For my family, they realize that if they want to spend time with me on Christmas, they get to help out," he added.
The annual dinner is served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Christmas Day at the Park Rapids American Legion.
A buffet dinner of turkey, ham, sweet potatoes, dressing, corn, mashed potatoes with gravy, salads, dinner rolls and pumpkin or apple pie are served at the dinner.
"And everyone gets a Santa bag with candy," said Lynn Spilman, another organizer.
It has become a tradition for Spilman as well.
"Just like giving gifts or having oyster stew on Christmas Eve," she said.
The annual dinner started 20 years ago at the Great Northern Café with Bob Kriss, who owned the restaurant at the time.
"When we had the café, we saw a lot of our customers were older people and we saw the need for them to be able to go somewhere," Kriss said.
The first year, about 100 people were served, Kriss estimated. The dinner was only held at the Great Northern for one year.
It had to be moved to a bigger space the next year. The meal was served at the Eagles for many years and then moved to the American Legion.
Twenty years later, many more people are served.
"Now we're serving 600 to 650 people," Anderson said.
The meal is free but donations are accepted. Any profits above the cost of the food go to the Salvation Army.
One of the best parts of the meal is socializing with people, according to organizers.
"There's so many people down there, we get the regulars who come back every year," said Anderson, who has volunteered for 14 years.
Volunteers help the night before with preparing the food and the day of, with serving and busing tables, Anderson said.
Most of the preparation work is completed Christmas Eve so all that's left Christmas Day is serving the food.
"It takes probably 15 people the day of and we can get away with six or seven the day before," Anderson said.
To serve more than 600 people, a lot of food needs to be prepared. About 20 turkeys and 10 hams are cooked the night before the dinner.
"I have a feeling the way the economy is, this year may be a bit larger," Anderson said.
"You just have to make a lot," Spilman said.
But they emphasize that there will be enough food.
"No one goes hungry," Anderson said. "It's just the fellowship of Christmas."
For the elderly, it's about the socializing and some people will spend two hours at the meal, Anderson said.
Deliveries and takeout orders are also available. Deliveries start at 10 a.m. Call 732-5238 to set up a delivery.
In the past, the volunteers have been amazed by the donations that come in.
"I remember one time we had a guy who stopped in and just wanted coffee and donuts - we didn't have any - so, he just had pie and threw in a $50 bill," Kriss said.
Another year, someone brought in coats, hats and sweaters for people to take as they left.
Other years, toys were donated for every child.
More donations are always welcomed, Anderson and Spilman said.
And the group could use additional volunteers, Spilman said. Volunteers can help serve and bus tables the day of or help with the food the night before.
To volunteer, call Spilman at 732-8250 in the afternoon.