Twenty-six years ago State Rep. Vernon G. Smith (D-Gary) founded the Spirit of Christmas Dinner in honor of two women who made a positive impact on his life—his mother, the Rev. Julia E. Smith, and a teacher, Patricia Tillotson. Held each year on December 25th, it has grown with over 600 hundred people attending this year’s event. One might say the legacy of these two ladies continues through Dr. Smith whose gratefulness for the spirit of these ladies is expressed in his own commitment and generosity.
Dr. Smith hosted the dinner with his fellow Spirit of Christmas Committee Members Joyce Washington-Price, Dwight A. Williams and Robin Bernal in the Genesis Convention Center in Gary for the third year. Despite the frigid 23-degree temperature outside and throngs of people, hundreds braved the weather for something more than a free meal and gifts. For many it’s a tradition that comes beautifully wrapped with smiling facing, a great holiday meal, entertainment and gifts. Each person is made to feel special by the committee members, from the guests who might otherwise not enjoy an extravagant meal on the holiday, to the volunteers that perform numerous tasks necessary to orchestrate an event of this magnitude.
The dinner is made possible by donations and held not just for Gary residents, but also for residents of Merrillville, Griffith, New Chicago, Lake Station, and Hobart. Dr. Smith said, “All Lake County residents are welcome as are people who live elsewhere.” It is intended as a dinner for the poor and hungry, senior citizens, and those who will be away from family and friends. One need only attend to experience the “Spirit of Christmas.”