More than 1,000 attend annual Christmas dinner at Holiday Inn Oceanfront

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More than 1,000 attend annual Christmas dinner at Holiday Inn Oceanfront

Meal a way to share food and fellowship
Published Saturday, December 25, 2010   |  366 Words  |  

Sporting a white beard and a red scarf, Dominick Wasielewski spent his Christmas Day bellowing season's greetings to hundreds of people streaming to the annual, free Community Christmas Day Dinner at the Holiday Inn Oceanfront.

As the unofficial greeter, he stooped to meet stuffed animals clutched by small children, helped senior citizens in wheelchairs through the front door and joked with departing couples that he would pat them down to see if they had stuffed cookies or biscuits in their pockets.

The banquet, started for people who are away from their families on Christmas, began eight years ago. Wasielewski has been coming for just as long.

He is one of 300 volunteers who take reservations, serve turkey and slices of a birthday cake for Jesus, and clean up after the diverse group that assembles for fellowship and food. This year, organizers think there were more than 1,000 guests.

"When you get old, it's the little pleasures in life, like making other people happy," he said.

The people gathered in the hotel's dining room and restaurant were indeed in high spirits. The crowded rooms decked in white lights buzzed with conversation and carols, while volunteers in name tags made sure everyone was fed.

For Lois Willig, who helped organize the event, the months spent planning and fundraising were worth it when a man who attended alone told her, "You brought me everything I could ever want for Christmas."

From the young professionals far from their hometowns to the retirees away from their grandchildren, "it's clear the need is there," Willig said.

After the tables are cleared, organizers end up with thousands of dollars in donations and a stack of sheets signed by those pledging to be volunteers next year.

The money and leftovers are given to Second Helpings and Meals on Wheels.

For dinner matriarch Barb O'Connor, the cycle of guests who decide to help out or who give to charity to see that others are fed is what Christmas is all about.

"We're all just bringing a little kindness to someone else," she said.