Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

All about caring & community at the church basement Christmas dinner December 17, 2012

We hung up our coats and headed to that doorway into the basement dining room.

Guests hung up their coats before heading for the dining room.

WE SHRUGGED OFF our winter coats, my husband and I, and secured them onto hooks before following the tantalizing aroma of turkey and meatballs into the church basement dining area.

My meal, minus the cranberries, bread and cake which were also served.

My meal, minus the cranberries, bread and cake which were also served.

I grabbed a plate and the volunteers passed it down the line, spooning on mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, turkey and two Swedish meatballs.

Then I heard the clatter, the sound of a cane falling upon tile and saw the elderly man directly behind me lying face down, motionless, on the floor between the serving line and the table for take-outs.

Volunteers expected to serve around 225 diners at the free Community Christmas Dinner. A free will offering could be given.

Volunteers expected to serve around 225 diners at the free Community Christmas Dinner. A free will offering could be given.

“Call 911,” I ordered my husband. I knew, given my hearing loss, that I wouldn’t be able to hear above the drone of conversation filling the basement at the Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church Community Christmas Dinner.

A sampling of the volunteer crew it takes to put on the Christmas dinner.

A sampling of the volunteer crew it takes to put on the Christmas dinner.

At some point, a server took the plate from my hand. “Give it to someone else,” I said.

“Is there a nurse here?” I asked as a cluster gathered around the fallen man. I mostly wanted someone to be with him, down there on the floor, comforting him until the paramedics arrived. And there was and that relieved me although I was still very much worried.

I felt helpless standing there, camera bag slung over one shoulder, camera on the other. I couldn’t simply take back my plate, sit down like nothing had happened and enjoy my Christmas meal.

Eventually, the man was eased off the floor and onto a chair and I sought out my husband who stood outside the glass doors in the bitter cold talking on the phone with the emergency dispatcher. I relayed that the man was now sitting and alert. And I wondered why the rescue squad had not yet arrived from two blocks away, knowing full well from personal experience that time seems to stand still when you are in need of emergency services.

And so the story ended. No broken bones. No heart attack. Not even shattered eyeglasses as the unsteady aged man tripped on a table leg and plunged forward, his fall broken only by the shoe of the woman scooping mashed potatoes at the beginning of the serving line.

If not for that shoe, he would have smashed face first onto the tile.

It seemed a Christmas miracle.

And so I stepped back into the serving line, the crew filling my plate for the second time. I pondered how grateful I am to live in a community where volunteers cook and serve savory meals in church basements and, when in a time of need, are there to comfort and assist.

Friends gave friends rides to and from the church dinner.

Friends gave friends rides to and from the church dinner.

The beautiful Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church in Faribault. I'll take you inside the sanctuary in a follow-up post.

The beautiful Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church in Faribault. I’ll take you inside the sanctuary in a follow-up post.

Coffee maker Dan Tersteeg mans the coffee corner. The coffee makers always use Folgers coffee, he says, because it works best with Faribault's water.

Coffee maker Dan Tersteeg mans the coffee corner. The coffee makers always use Folgers, he says, because it works best with Faribault’s water.

I noticed this full coffee cup setting on a cupboard lined with holiday decorations. During the congregation's Lenten soup luncheons, desserts fill the shelves.

I noticed this full coffee cup sitting on a cupboard lined with holiday decorations. During the congregation’s Lenten soup luncheons, desserts fill the shelves.

Inside a room labeled "Fourth Avenue Room," where women were slicing Christmas cake, among other tasks, I found this sign posted.

Inside a room labeled “Fourth Avenue Room,” where women were slicing Christmas cake, among other tasks, I found this humorous sign posted.

And then these directions, too, posted, perhaps, by the boss?

And then these directions, too, posted, perhaps, by the boss?

In the kitchen, a team of workers tended the food and washed the dishes, etc.

In the kitchen, a team of workers tended the food and washed the dishes, etc.

And another worker handed out Christmas cake.

Another worker handed out slices of festive and delicious Christmas cake.

Diners enjoyed each other's company and observed the goings-on.

Diners enjoyed each other’s company and observed the goings-on.

Some of the guests took home gifts of poinsettias which served as table centerpieces.

Some of the guests took home gifts of poinsettias which served as table centerpieces.

A street-side sign welcomes diners to the free Community Christmas dinner.

A street-side sign welcomes diners to the free Community Christmas dinner.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling