Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Free food & fellowship in Faribault on Fourth December 16, 2016

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

Diners at the 2012 Community Christmas Dinner in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I LOVE ALLITERATION, the repetition of sound that rolls off the tongue like a musical refrain: Free food and fellowship in Faribault on Fourth.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of a past dinner.

The meal minus cranberries and bread. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

This alliteration requires explanation: Fourth Avenue United Method Church in Faribault will host its 14th annual Community Christmas Dinner from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. on Sunday, December 18. The meal of turkey, meatballs, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, bread, cranberries and Christmas cake is free. However, donations are accepted with a portion of those gifts benefiting charities in Rice County.

Volunteers hard at work in the kitchen. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Volunteers hard at work in the kitchen. They feed several hundred. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Several years have passed since I attended this church basement dinner at 219 Fourth Avenue Northwest. I have only positive words for the delicious Christmas meal served by friendly folks. I enjoy the food as much as the conversation with volunteers and diners in a festive holiday setting.

Volunteer Madeline serves Christmas cake at a past dinner. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

Volunteer Madeline serves Christmas Cake at a past dinner. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

The most memorable menu item for me is the dessert—poke cake. These Methodists call it Christmas Cake, perhaps because of the red and green sugar sprinkled atop the Cool Whip frosting. Poke cake traces to the 1970s; I remember my mom preparing this cake for special occasions like Christmas. It’s a white or yellow cake mix poked with a fork after baking with Jell-O poured atop. Red or green Jell-O filters through the holes and into the cake. I’m not big on cake. But I’m big on memories.

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

The congregation of the beautiful Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church in Faribault hosts the Christmas dinner. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I’m also big on gratitude to the good people at Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church who give this gracious gift to my community each Christmas.

Thank you.

TELL ME: Does a free Community Christmas Dinner exist in your community? Or have you ever tried poke cake?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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22 Responses to “Free food & fellowship in Faribault on Fourth”

  1. Beth Ann Says:

    Yes to both. 🙂 Poke cakes were always fun to make and as a United Methodist I love what this church is doing. Good for them for providing a great community dinner.

    • I’ve never made a poke cake. But one of my friends serves the cake occasionally at our bible study. We always eat before we study.

      Last evening when I drove by Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, I saw vehicles ringing the church and the kitchen basement lights blazing. I can only assume the crew had gathered to work on meal preparations. Better than this evening when we will be in the midst of a strong winter storm. Up to 10 inches of snow predicted with strong winds and bitter cold. My extended family Christmas gathering planned for this weekend on the southwestern Minnesota prairie has been postponed.

  2. Marneymae Says:

    i’m a big fan of cake, but i’ve never eaten Poke Cake.
    and i LOVE this post. (most posts of this nature, really…) – the community, sharing, feeding people…
    there are a number of Christmas meals in town. dinners and lunches hosted by various organizations.
    Faribault seems like a really super place to be.

  3. Littlesundog Says:

    I LOVE when you write about this event! The Catholic church in this town does a similar Thanksgiving dinner. I was sad to see that this year was the last year for it. It began in the early 1970’s and one family was “in charge”, but countless other parishioners volunteered to help in the preparation days before and the day of the event. I volunteered for a few years myself and found it to be a lot of work and fun! But as times have changed and less young people wish to be involved and that original family’s older members have passed on or are in bad health, and the young have moved away, there is no one to spearhead the giant production it’s become. I was sad when I read my friend’s Christmas letter saying she and her siblings had to give it up after this year.

  4. I think I’ve had poke cake at some point – I recognized it! There is a website for free community meals in the Minneapolis area here: http://csrmpls.info/freemeals. And Little Brothers of the Elderly does one on Christmas Eve, info here: https://www.littlebrothersmn.org/Volunteer/Volunteer-opportunities/Holiday-dinner-volunteering.aspx. I’ve never been to a free community meal, though I know many churches in our area have such things. And I admire the Empty Bowls program; the Powderhorn Empty Bowls program sponsors a weekly event: http://powderhornemptybowls.org/free-community-meals/. Many opportunities to both eat and volunteer!

  5. treadlemusic Says:

    Yes to both and I love how refreshing that cake is……especially when served on a hot July (4th?) day!!!! It lends well to a red/white/blue format, also!!!!!

  6. Julie Says:

    Jello poke cake is our family favorite. I make it often. Co-workers and our camp family love it too!

  7. No free dinners around here but I have tried and made a chocolate poke cake with caramel filling and whipped cream & crushed candy topping

  8. Valerie Says:

    It’s great how there are so many charity events around.

    I never have known it to be called Poke Cake but yes, I had it with lemon cake and lemon jello!

  9. Jackie Says:

    A free meal, such a wonderful idea! Not so much that it’s free but it gives opportunity for those especially who don’t have family around to fellowship with others during the holiday season. Our church does a meal for men in town who are trying to get back on their feet after being incarcerated. It’s a halfway house called Damascus Way, a program serving men with criminal histories. The halfway house is located close to our church and many of these men attend. We also did a caring tree tags listing essentials that these men are in need of, our church members took the tags and bought the things to gift to the men. They were presented the gifts after the meal. As far as “poke cake”, yes I’ve made it, it’s so easy and yummy!


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