From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

St. Charles Parish’s tradition continues with annual free Christmas dinner

by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the Dec. 19, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)

For the past 25 or so years, a free dinner has been served on Christmas Day at St. Charles Parish in Spokane. Anyone who would like to attend is welcome for Christmas Dinner 2002.

In the beginning, the dinner was a parish project, but eventually the Knights of Columbus Council at St. Charles took charge. The first year, the parish served about 200 people. That number climbed steadily in 10 years’ time to reach 300, until other organizations and churches began serving their own Christmas day dinners. Last year between 300-400 people ate dinner at St. Charles. This year the Knights expect to serve from 250-300 people.

Lee Bayley can claim the distinction of having been at all the dinners. That’s not too surprising, considering he’s the cook. He was an assistant with chef Ray Longo when the dinner started, then took on the cooking chores when Longo retired.

The shopping for the yuletide meal is done. Twelve 23-pound turkeys are waiting in the freezer, and the groceries that make up the rest of the dinner have been purchased. The menu is typical holiday fare: turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes and gravy, and string beans. A variety of desserts are served, primarily fruit pies.

Bayley said they now buy whole turkeys to cook. “We used to cook turkey rolls and we tried turkey breasts for a while, but whole turkeys have a greater appeal. It’s a different product and we’re really happy with it,” he said.

The turkeys are not stuffed; the dressing is made in pans.

Bayley goes to work early on Christmas morning. He arrives in the St. Charles kitchen around 5 a.m. to get the turkeys on to cook. A core group of about four people help Bayley prepare the food for the meal.

Larry McMullin and Darrell Keeney are co-chairmen for the dinner. McMullin has chaired the dinner the past six years. He took over from long-time chairman Emmet Shearer.

One of their main jobs is coordinating all the volunteers – no small task. Even though the total number of volunteers fluctuates, typically 50 or more individuals participate. Whole families come to help, spending Christmas in the service of others. All the volunteers wear Santa hats for easy identification.

One of the primary goals is to make sure everyone receives a “hearty welcome,” Keeney said. Most of the dinner guests are elderly and they appreciate a chance to socialize. Keeney said he’s noticed that the number of young families who come is increasing, and there are also more women. The dinner is of the sit-down-and-be-served variety, not a buffet. Serving lasts two hours, from noon until two, but in that short time, the hundreds of guests are served a homestyle turkey dinner.

Guests are also treated to entertainment during the two hours. One of the mainstay musical groups is the Hank and Lois Swoboda family, in which Mom plays the piano and Dad, the saxophone. Their various children, grandchildren, other relatives and even their friends join with them to play, what else? Christmas music, of course. People with any musical ability are all are welcome to step right up and share their talents during serving time.

St. Charles School students decorate gift bags, and so all the guests each take home a bag of goodies — cookies, candy and fruit. Any leftover food is given to the House of Charity.

All three Knights – Bayley, McMullin and Keeney – indeed, the whole parish – appreciate the comments given by the guests, who say how grateful they are for the dinner and how much they enjoyed it.

Bayley enjoys the dinner, too: “I get more out of it than I put in. Even though it’s a long day, it’s a fun day, very rewarding.”

(The dinner is served in the St. Charles School auditorium-gym from noon until 2 p.m. Address of the church is 4515 N. Alberta, Spokane; the phone number is (509) 327-9573. Transportation is provided for people with no way to get to the church and also take-out meals are available for the homebound. Call the parish for more information.)

*****

Parish’s clothing drive collects coats, hats – even blankets

St. Charles Parish has been collecting clean coats, hats and gloves in all sizes for all ages, even blankets for a clothing drive to help people stay warm in the winter months. The winter garments are given out during the Christmas dinner to anyone needing them, and McMullin said leftover items are given to the House of Charity.

Persons wanting to donate to the drive can bring their clean, repaired items to the church by Dec. 24. For more information, call the parish office: (509) 327-9573.


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