Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

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 Christmas dinner serves more than 400 – ‘no one need be alone or hungry on Christmas’

by Paul McNabb, for the Inland Register

(From the Jan. 14, 2010 edition of the Inland Register)

Lee Bayley prepares one of 17 turkeys served at this free year’s Christmas dinner at St. Charles Parish, Spokane. (IR photo by Paul McNabb)

To many St. Charles parishioners and their extended families, the corporal work of mercy “Feed the Hungry” has become a longstanding habit, particularly on Christmas Day.

That work, along with befriending the lonely and clothing those inadequately dressed for winter, was carried out on Christmas Day 2009 for at least the 33rd straight year (and possibly longer).

Parishioners, including moms, dads, children and grandchildren, friends and many non-parishioners have made the St. Charles Christmas Dinner for the Needy and Lonely a part of their Christmas tradition.

For some, this ministry goes back to the beginning of the dinners, somewhere in the mid-1970s. “There are no official records of when the meals began, but it was somewhere around 1976 or so,” said Lee Bayley, who has been in the kitchen on every one of the dinners.

This Christmas, he showed up in the St. Charles kitchen at 5 a.m., as usual, to get 17 turkeys ready to put in the ovens by 6 a.m. That necessitated much preparation on his part and many others, as they got ready to serve more than 400 meals to anyone wanting a Christmas dinner. The 400 included meals eaten on site and many takeouts.

Originally, Bayley, Emmett Shearer and others organized a meal that could be served to the needy as well as anyone just wanting to be with someone on Christmas Day – not necessarily just the hungry, but the lonely, as well.

Several years ago, parishioners added clothing to the ministry. Winter clothing, particularly coats, sweaters, gloves and socks, are donated and then distributed to guests.

A volunteer chats with one of the approximately 400 people who enjoyed the hospitality of a free Christmas dinner at St. Charles Parish this year. (IR photo by Steve Navratil)

Diners arrive in many ways, but many on donated buses operated by volunteer school drivers, that swing through town picking up folks at various shelters. One year a man arrived on foot at the church on North Alberta from his downtown apartment and turned down an offer for a ride back. He was a walker wherever he went, even on Christmas.

In the beginning, meat for the meal was sliced from rolls of pressed turkey, but, Bayley said, “We later decided pressed turkey just didn’t have the turkey taste someone should enjoy on Christmas Day.” So from then on frozen turkeys were purchased and prepared in the traditional way.

Other food is donated by parishioners or purchased from funds contributed for the meal. Excess cash is given to the St. Charles Food Bank. This year the Food Bank should receive more than $1,400 from those contributions. Excess food is donated to the House of Charity. Excess clothing is given to another agency.

An added feature this year was the donation of a prized stuffed animal collection by parishioner Arlene Ertner. Children attending the dinner could select an animal to take home. “This was an added highlight, to see the enjoyment in the children’s eyes,” said Bayley.

The dinner is a parish-wide event, but the St. Charles Knights of Columbus Council assumed its management role when the council was chartered in 1982. Bayley is in his third year as Grand Knight of the council.

He estimated about 140 persons worked on this year’s dinner, including about 125 on hand on Christmas Day, plus those who contributed food and money. To all of those he gave thanks. “Christmas is sharing, not receiving,” he said. “It’s the love that you give, the friendship that you give and a warm meal that you give.”

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