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Community Christmas dinner draws a big crowd

With a contingent of veteran volunteers, and under the guidance of longtime co-chairs Dennis Anderson and Lynn Spilman, Sara Gallus and sister Lori Cannon planned for 900 to 1,000 people

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Bonnie Buresch of Menahga dishes up coleslaw with a smile at the 2022 Community Christmas Dinner.
Shannon Geisen/Enterprise
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Festive sweaters, Santa hats, smiles and good food abounded at the 34th annual Community Christmas Dinner.

Judy Anderson greeted hungry guests who opted to dine in, while substantial lines formed outside by those choosing to drive through and pick up hot meals at the Park Rapids American Legion.

“It’s crazy,” she said of the steady attendance. “People are really generous, too.”

There was no charge for the meal, but freewill offerings were welcome.

Behind her were toys donated by the Dollar Tree and Operation Home Front.

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Judy Anderson welcomes all to the Community Christmas Dinner, inviting them to sign into the guest book.
Shannon Geisen/Enterprise

“This is for families that come in with kids. The kids can take a toy or two,” she said.

“It’s been crazy,” Sara Gallus, a co-organizer of the Christmas Day feast, said, “and it’s not even noon. The drive-up line has kept constant since before 11 a.m. We had people waiting in here at a quarter to 11 a.m.”

She estimated that 250 meals were delivered to the homebound.

In the first hour of the event, “we’ve fed almost 200 people,” Gallus said.

With a contingent of veteran volunteers, and under the guidance of longtime co-chairs Dennis Anderson and Lynn Spilman, Gallus and sister Lori Cannon planned for 900 to 1,000 people.

“It’s organized chaos,” quipped Spilman. She noted that the drive-through option has been popular at other meals as well.

There were plenty of volunteers, she said, organized into two shifts. The final shift was the clean-up crew.

“It’s a joy,” Spilman said.

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With the return of in-person dining, the Park Rapids American Legion was teeming with diners on Christmas Day.
Shannon Geisen/Enterprise

Guests received a heaping plate of turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, coleslaw, corn, dinner roll and Christmas cookie.

The Park Rapids American Legion Auxiliary baked 1,200 sugar cookies topped with green or red crystals.

The Star of the North Marine Corps League donated $600 to the Park Rapids community Christmas dinner and bagged candy for the affair.

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Kora and Lynn Just, a mother-daughter team, deliver lemonade and coffee at the Christmas Day feast.
Shannon Geisen/Enterprise

Michelle Nelson playfully complained that husband Anthony “stole” all of the chocolate from her candy bag. They traveled from Wadena to enjoy the Christmas meal with brother Scott and mother Adelle and Adelle’s partner, Jim Larson.

This was the family’s first time at the Community Christmas Dinner.

“It’s awesome,” said Adelle Nelson. “I’m 91. I’m not cooking.”

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Bruce Craig arguably has the most important job: providing clean dishes and silverware. He has washed dishes at the event ever year except for the two years of COVID. "I just enjoy all the people that come in," he said.
Shannon Geisen/Enterprise

Proceeds above and beyond the cost of the dinner are donated to nonprofits in the Park Rapids area.

The holiday dinner was originally started by the Bob Kriss family, who owned the Great Northern Cafe. The motto is “No one should spend Christmas Day hungry or alone.”

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Related Topics: CHRISTMASPARK RAPIDS
Shannon Geisen is editor of the Park Rapids Enterprise.
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