Meadville Tribune

Local News

December 26, 2012

Hundreds of volunteers, diners share part of Christmas

MEADVILLE — If Bill Foster had his way, no one would ever spend a holiday alone. In fact, as this Meadville resident sees it, the f-word that both Thanksgiving and Christmas are really all about isn’t Food. It’s Fellowship.

Although the holiday feasts Foster and his culinary co-conspirator, Sherman Allen, put together twice each year are literally priceless for those attending, participation is totally unrelated to income. The only criteria for the opportunity to fill a plate is a desire to share the common experience of a holiday meal.

Christmas 2012, however, may have been something of a record-breaker. According to Foster’s estimate, approximately 200 folks made their way to the Family and Community Christian Association headquarters on Chestnut Street, where Foster and his crew of volunteers take over the kitchen and two large rooms on the first floor to provide both buffet-style dining and home delivery services.

Between 100 and 125 volunteers were on hand Tuesday, according to Foster’s estimate, while a crew of approximately 30 devoted their Christmas Eve day to advance preparations.

An additional 160 dinners featuring ham, turkey, baked beans, mashed potatoes, dressing, lots of gravy, grandma-style side dishes galore — and, of course, more pies than could possibly be counted — were also delivered by an all-volunteer crew of approximately two dozen drivers.

“That’s high for Christmas,” Foster noted. And even though the number of deliveries was fairly normal, the territory has expanded in recent years to include areas of Crawford County including Springboro, Linesville, Conneaut Lake and Titusville.

Delivery coordinator Wanetta Samuels of Springboro credits her excellent crew with making short work of hand-delivering this year’s Christmas dinners to locations that were both widespread and, in one case, a bit unusual. At the request of a third party, one batch of dinners was delivered to a family living in a milkhouse.

While the milkhouse was certainly a notable delivery location, that isn’t a story that brings tears to the eyes of her husband, Scott, who recalls making a delivery one year to a mobile home occupied by a couple he describes as “way up in their years. Way up in their years.”

He was in a lift chair and couldn’t get out of his chair real easily, Scott recalled. “He invited me into his house and we talked a little bit. Then he asked me to just put the food on the table while he got out of his chair.

“When I turned around, momma was sitting at the table,” he continued. “Candles were lit and she was all dressed with her white shirt and pearls and lipstick. They were all dolled up. They blessed us and thanked us for delivering their Christmas meal. They just wanted their Christmas together.”

The Samuels have been volunteering for eight or nine years. “Back in the day, the family was falling apart and we didn’t want to be sitting at home by ourselves,” Scott explained with a chuckle.

There’s a lot of that going on.

“I couldn’t tell you how long I’ve been doing this,” confessed retired veterinarian Dick Kester from Cambridge Springs, who also serves on the delivery team. “My wife started before I did — I used to get stuck working on holidays from time to time, and this was something she could do.”

Now that he’s retired and none of their children are in the immediate area, it’s become something they both do.

The annual Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, however, aren’t Kester’s only holiday involvement with his community. He’s also an active participant in the Kiwanis Santa Claus program in Cambridge Springs. “That’s for the children,” he explained, noting that the dinners are usually for older people.

While both projects are about establishing human contact during the holiday season and those receiving dinners are certainly quick to express their appreciation, Kester duly notes that the Santa delivery program, which includes lots of hugs from the little ones, can be very rewarding. “When you get hugged by a little one, it keeps you coming back,” he said with a smile. “People need so many different things.”

As for the future, both monetary and food donations for Foster’s 2013 dinners are already being cheerfully accepted. Money always comes in handy, but canned donations — big #10 cans, not the smaller family-sized portions, please — are also welcome. “We don’t need smaller cans,” Foster stressed.

Checks made payable to Family and Community Christian Association with “Christmas/Thanksgiving Dinners” indicated on the memo line should be sent to FCCA, 378 Chestnut St., Meadville, Pa. 16335. Food donations can be dropped off at the same location during normal business hours, Foster said.

“I want to thank everybody who helped out,” he added. “My goodness — this would be impossible without them.”

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