Meadville Tribune

November 22, 2012

Help wanted: Free, public holiday dinners keep growing

By Mary Spicer
Meadville Tribune

MEADVILLE — For Meadville resident Bill Foster, ‘tis the season of “Gobble, gobble, gobble — ho, ho, ho!”

The groaning board practically overflowing with turkey and every conceivable trimming bisecting the dining room at the Family and Community Christian Association building on Chestnut Street was still, well, groaning early Thursday afternoon. With his 36th annual Thanksgiving dinner well under way, however, Foster, who co-chairs the event with Crawford County Commissioner Sherman Allen, was already moving on.

The next stop for the Foster/Allen show? Dec. 25 — Christmas Day. Same time: noon to 1 p.m. Same place: 378 Chestnut St. in picturesque downtown Meadville. While donations are gratefully accepted, both Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners are free and open to the public.

Based on their Thanksgiving experience — which included delivering 231 meals, about twice the usual number — organizers are gearing up for a real rush at Christmas.

“What I’d really like people to know is that we always need help as far as donations of food,” Foster said as he surveyed his bustling realm. “This dinner is using about twice the amount of food as we’d go through in a normal year because of all the takeout — so we’re running a little short.” An early casualty was gravy, which was definitely in short supply, but thankful diners somehow managed to soldier on.

Anyone interested in participating in the Christmas celebration should call the association offices at 337-4279 Monday through Thursday 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday, 6 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Saturday from 10 to 11:30 a.m.

“Someone will take down the information about whether you want to come, donate food or money or serve as a volunteer,” Foster said.

Those who want to donate food, however, are asked to limit their donations to large sizes. “Number-10 cans of sweet potatoes, green beans, peas, anything like that is definitely welcome,” Foster said. “We need it in big volume because the dinners are getting bigger and bigger.”

Ulterior motives

So what is it that brings people out of their homes at all hours of the morning, away from televised parades and football games? And inspires some hardy volunteers to work overtime for days — maybe weeks — in advance?

Meadville residents Maria and Ernie Brink were staffing the coffee and Kool-Aid stations, respectively. “It’s just the thing to do — and we love doing it,” Maria said Thursday afternoon. “And Bill Foster, who runs this, is wonderful. Just wonderful.”

The Brinks, who have been regulars for 14 years, decided to come for the first time when they realized they were going to be alone for the holiday. “We knew that this was being held at the (former) YWCA,” Maria recalled. “We thought that rather than spend the day alone, we’d come and spend it with other people. That’s why Bill started this — so people won’t have to be alone. And now we so enjoy it.”

For Arvilla Allen — Mrs. Claus to her closest friends — it’s nice to just be helping people out. “I guess you could say I’m doing the Lord’s will, because that’s what He wants us to do — to share with people and be a blessing to them,” she said as she helped keep a watchful eye on the coffee supply.

“It’s a beautiful day to come here,” agreed Santa, who arrived with a flourish, distributing lollipops and roaringly jolly ho-ho-ho’s to one and all. This is one very popular elf; in fact, he was barely through the door when a young admirer threw herself into his arms for a giant hug. “Everybody is enjoying good food and fellowship,” Santa said, looking around with a grin. “You betcha.”

Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at

You can help:

Anyone interested in participating in the annual Christmas dinner organized by co-chairs Bill Foster and Sherman Allen should let organizers know if you’re interested in attending, donating food or money or serving as a volunteer by calling Meadville’s Family & Community Christian Association at 337-4279 Monday through Thursday 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday, 6 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Saturday from 10 to 11:30 a.m.

Food donations should be limited to large sizes, such as number-10 cans of items such as sweet potatoes, green beans or peas

The dinner, which is free and open to the public, will be Dec. 25 from noon to 1 p.m. at 378 Chestnut St.