Christmas and its origins reflect the spirit of giving. From John 3:16 to the presents under the Christmas tree, giving has always been the central theme of Christmas. It’s only fitting that a group of volunteers have bound together every Christmas day for the past 21 years to offer Duncan and Stephens County a free meal. The meal will kick off at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Stephens County Fair & Expo Center.
The tradition of a free Christmas meal didn’t stop last year when a blizzard stricken Stephens County still had more than 2,000 of its residents make their way to the Stephens County Fair & Expo Center. It certainly won’t stop this year either. Especially with clear skies in the forecast.
“Christmas day is the culmination of a lot of hard work,” Larry Lawler said. “It takes innumerable hours and thousands of dollars to make sure everyone who wants a Christmas dinner can have one.”
Feeding more than 3,000 is no small task, however. Lawler expects more than 200 volunteers to offer their assistance for the dinner.
“The people that come out to help are from every walk of life and they are just happy to help out,” he said. “You will have folks with doctorate degrees working alongside someone with little or no education. It’s really a great thing to see.”
Preparation of the foods begins a few days before Christmas. Vegetables are cut, eggs boiled and every other preparation that can occur early, does, Lawler said.
“We start about two days before Christmas, we have to get all of our cookers out and clean them,” he said.
The mountains of turkeys, potatoes rolls and vegetables are all ready to be served by 9 a.m. Christmas day, he said. Take-out orders start their routes before the meal is served at 11 a.m.
“We start at 11 a.m. with the in-house eating,” he said. “Over the years, it’s been half and half with how many people get takeouts or eat in. We just do our best to make sure no one gets turned away and they all get a good, hearty meal for Christmas.”
Most of the people that eat-in, Lawler said, spend a considerable amount of time just mingling and visiting with others.
“We don’t want people to be home alone on Christmas,” he said. “We want them to come out and stay to talk with other folks. Some people stay there three hours just visiting with one another.”
Even though the meal is scheduled to end at 2 p.m., Lawler and the rest of the volunteers understand work schedules and other responsibilities can prevent some people from getting to the fairgrounds on time. “If we have someone come in close to quitting time, we are not going to turn them away,” he said.
The payoff of seeing everyone enjoy the fruits of their labor, Lawler said, is enough for him.
“It’s a lot of hard work to do it, but I really enjoy doing it,” he said. “We get home at about 5 p.m. and we are just exhausted. But it’s good to give back to the community.”
To make reservations for the dinner call 580-255-3231.
— David Laughlin is a reporter for The Duncan Banner. He can be reached at 580-255-5354, Ext. 160, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.