Despite temperatures in the double digits below zero, people braved the cold to attend the Community Christmas Dinner. Here a diner, bundled against the frigid cold, leaves the church
OUTSIDE FOURTH AVENUE United Methodist Church, a 1990s Ford Fiesta with 300,000 plus miles idled in the bitter cold early Sunday afternoon. Indoors, brothers Tom and Joe, bellies full from a holiday meal of turkey and all the fixings, waited. They hoped their car would warm for the 15-mile ride back home to Owatonna in minus zero temps.
Volunteers plate a meal of turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, meatballs and green beans for diners. Additionally, cranberries and Christmas Cake were on the menu.
They’d driven here for the free Community Christmas Dinner served by volunteers from this Faribault congregation. Joe wondered aloud whether he’d need to eat later at an Owatonna church which serves a free meal each Sunday evening.
Stunning stained glass windows at the back of the sanctuary.
While the two waited, I encouraged them to step inside the sanctuary to view the beautiful stained glass windows. The brothers admired the art, Tom pointing to a smaller pane resembling one in his childhood home, the house that became his after their father’s passing. Soon, I bid them farewell, wishing them both a Merry Christmas.
Doesn’t he look just like Saint Nick?
Back in the church basement hallway, I came face-to-face with Santa Claus. Not in his suit, but looking every bit the part with a full white beard and a twinkle in his eye. The guy (whose name I didn’t get because who asks Santa for his “real” name?) plays Santa occasionally—for his step-daughter’s special needs class. He clearly enjoys the opportunity to bring joy to these students.
Exiting the church after dinner.
Later, I observed an elderly woman climb the basement stairs, plastic bag in hand with meal left-overs inside. I watched as my husband held the door for her, stepped outside and helped her across the snow-packed sidewalk to her car.
Diners sit down to a holiday meal in the church basement.
In all three instances—in the conversations with brothers Tom and Joe, in the quick photo shoot of Santa, in the care Randy showed to the elderly woman, I experienced the spirit of Christmas. Gratitude and giving. Giving and gratitude.
This bulletin board, just inside the side entry to the church basement, proclaims holiday joy.
To the many volunteers who prepare, serve and clean up after this holiday community meal, thank you. You provide more than food for the body. On this Sunday, in your church basement, you blessed me and others with Christmas joy. In conversations. In smiles. In helping hands. What a gift.
Volunteers serve Christmas Cake (aka Poke Cake) and return left-overs to the Cake Room following the meal.
Slices of Christmas cake are plated and then delivered to diners on vintage trays.
Baby Whitney enjoys Christmas Cake.
Holiday banners add a festive flair to basement walls.
Signs posted throughout the basement welcome guests to Christmas worship services.
Volunteers can reach into this tub for aprons.
Behind the scenes, volunteers are busy washing dishes.
Each table is decorated with unique and festive holiday decor.
This is the view walking into the dining hall. Diners can leave a free will offering in the basket, a portion of which goes to Rice County charities.
Christmas decorations grace a shelving unit.
Back in the kitchen, the crew continues to work.
After serving ended, I spotted this food list on a table.
Washing tables after 210 meals were served.
© 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling