Perry’s annual Christmas Dinner will take place at the Elks Lodge on Monday, Dec. 25. Feeding elderly, family members and more, the tradition operates with the help of hands from volunteers, organizations, and local businesses.
Pairing both community event with the opportunity to volunteer and give back, the overall message is simple: You don’t have to be alone on the holidays.
“That loneliness, especially on Christmas Day - I can feel it right now,” Deb Miller, Christmas Dinner volunteer says.
“I can imagine how they feel.”
In the past, Miller would drive to HOPE Church in Des Moines with her family on Christmas morning to give back. Their holiday would be moved up to Christmas Eve.
“We started volunteering and more and more people wanted to come,” Miller said. “We were taking about two vans full down there.”
Perry needed to have this, Miller recalled.
A group gathered to plan for the Christmas dinner in Sept., but some didn’t think they could pull it off in time.
Around 300 people were fed the first year.
This past year, according to Miller, around 400 people were served a Christmas dinner.
“It’s really a community effort,” Miller said. “It’s about all of us pulling together and we really do.”
The bulk of the community accounts for the meal: meats from Tyson, rolls, gravy and butter from Hy-Vee, ham and green bean casserole from Fareway, dressing from the Rowley Center, beverages from Shopko, and more give back.
As for set-up, tables are decorated with hand-made items created by students at the school, and candy, donated by Ben Franklin’s is set out.
“Larry [Meacham] is our cook in the kitchen, he’s kind of the main cook preparing the meats, we usually put someone else in there with him,” Miller said.
Ham, pork, turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, as well as green bean casserole are typical menu items.
Around fifty volunteers are used during the two-shift session on Christmas, Miller describes, which ranges from peeling around 100 potatoes to additional set-up and tear-down at the Elks Lodge.
The meal is not income based, nor does it leave anyone out.
“With leftover food, we start serving the Police and Fire Department,” Miller said.
Likewise, extra food is taken to the nursing homes where staff members are fed.
Those who live in low-income housing are also given a plate of sweets to enjoy.
“We try to use absolutely everything,” Miller said.
While the meal is free to everyone, those who wish to give back are able to make a donation, Miller says.
“We put out a can for donations [and it’s] anything you want to donate if you like, and we give it back to the food pantry,” Miller said.”
The volunteer efforts were recently recognized at this year’s Chamber of Commerce banquet where the Christmas Dinner received the “Volunteer of the Year” reward.
“It’s for everybody,” Miller said about the award. “If wasn’t for Larry or I, it’s for the community dinner and for everybody involved.”
After volunteering every Christmas for years, Miller says there are still touching moments throughout the day.
“It’s everybody coming in and as we walk by, ‘Thank you so much,’” Miller said. “I know that they feel so grateful that they have a place to come.”
“To have a TV dinner on Christmas - it seems like it’s not that big of an effort [to volunteer] if you think of all the people that we touch with this meal, that’s what warms my heart.”
The Christmas dinner is seeking donations of cookies and candy to be used in a goodie bag for attendees. Those can just be dropped off at the Elks from 9:00a.m. Dec. 24 until noon on Dec. 25.