State Rep. Vernon G. Smith (D-Gary) said because The Spirit of Christmas Dinner has been so popular, feeding more than 600 people and providing a gift for each person, there is an ever greater need for volunteers and donations to help make the event successful.
The annual event is held on Christmas Day, from 1-4 p.m. This year, the free dinner will again be at the Genesis Convention Center, 1 Genesis Center Plaza, in Gary.
“The undertaking of The Spirit of Christmas Dinner is a daunting challenge,” said Dr. Smith. “Its success creates a greater need for contributions and volunteers, but trust in God and our neighbors, here in Gary and the surrounding area, enables us to meet the needs to make the dinner an even better and larger event to help more people who need a good meal and fellowship.
“On Thursday, Dec. 22, from 8 a.m.-5 p.m., we have cooks who come to volunteer their time and help begin the preparation,” detailed Dr. Smith. “We serve a lot of people, so we have to start early in the preparation of the various dishes. On Friday, Dec. 23, from 9 a.m.-1 p.m., the volunteer decorators arrive at the Genesis Convention Center to transform the room into a magical Christmas wonderland that will uplift the most saddened and loneliest of hearts. Volunteers are welcome to help for as long as they have time on those two days.
“The food servers will arrive on Christmas Day at noon, so that the hot food can begin being served right at 1 p.m.,” continued Dr. Smith. “As it always is, one of the most important tasks is at the end of the day. It is the clean-up. It is actually not as bad as it sounds. When you have enough people helping, the job gets done quickly and can be fun.
“Christmas Day volunteers are scheduled to work from noon-6 p.m.,” mentioned Dr. Smith. “We are also in great need of financial donations to cover the rising costs of The Spirit of Christmas Dinner. All donations are gratefully appreciated and used directly for The Spirit of Christmas Dinner.
“During the Advent season, we Christians prepare for the coming of the baby Jesus, the savior of humanity,” reflected Dr. Smith. “We are reminded each year that there was no room at the inn for the Holy Family, so our Savior was born in a humble manger. A week after Christmas, we celebrate Epiphany as the three wise men made their way across the vast desert following the bright star of Bethlehem to the site of the greatest event in the history of the world.
“Our role at the Spirit of Christmas Dinner is likewise to be a bright star of Bethlehem as we invite our sisters and brothers to join us for a warm meal and genuine fellowship as we all rediscover the true meaning of Christmas and what it means to be worthy of being called followers of Jesus Christ,” said Dr. Smith.
“The Spirit of Christmas Dinner makes for a remarkable day, so please join us as a volunteer, donate if you are unable to be there, or be our guest if you are in need of a good meal, are a senior citizen or will be by yourself on Christmas,” added Dr. Smith. “You will be glad you did. I know you will receive a special blessing, more fulfilling than any Christmas gift you can imagine.”
Dr. Smith said volunteers and those making financial donations may call him at 219-887-2046. Reservations are not required for the dinner, but are appreciated in order to facilitate preparations for the event. Reservations may be made by calling that same number, 219-887-2046.
The Spirit of Christmas Dinner is held for residents of Gary, Merrillville, Griffith, New Chicago, Lake Station, and Hobart. However, Dr. Smith said all Lake County residents are welcome as are people who live elsewhere. The dinner is intended as an event for the poor and hungry, senior citizens, and those who will be away from family and friends.
Dr. Smith hosts the dinner with Joyce Washington-Price, Dwight Williams and Robin Bernal. The event is held in memory and honor of Dr. Smith’s mother, the Rev. Julia E. Smith, who served as pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, and Patricia Tillotson, a former educator in the Gary School Corporation. This is the 25rd anniversary of Rev. Smith’s passing. Ms. Tillotson died in 1997.