By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published December 12, 2019
WOODSTOCK—Tables adorned with the family silver and decorative china, centerpieces of crystal Christmas trees, oversized wooden soldier nutcrackers and goblets with plum candles greeted the hundreds of guests.
An army of volunteers in the kitchen hustled to plate cordon bleu, roasted vegetables, mashed potatoes and sweet potato soufflé as others delivered the meals to nearly three dozen tables filling St. Michael the Archangel Church’s family life center.
Some 216 senior citizens were the VIPs at this annual soiree at the Woodstock parish on Friday, Dec. 6.
Jackie Pala and her mother, Lucy, were first-time visitors. Pala said both the thoughtful care to decorate the tables and the tasty food overwhelmed them.
“We don’t get out too often so this is exciting. Unbelievable,” said Pala, after the performance of the handbell choir from the Hillside United Methodist Church and before each guest received a bag filled with Christmas gifts.
She said her mother attends many senior programs in the area, but this day was special.
“They really do go all out. This tops everything,” said Pala.
Carol Dull oversees the buzz in the kitchen where she’s been volunteering for the past four years. Dull carves time out of work for her Seasons catering business to help prepare and serve the luncheon dishes.
“It’s a total group effort. There’s a whole community of people who help out,” said Dull, speaking from her own kitchen where she prepared farro and kale salads for a client.
Christmas is when parish members seem to be in a friendly competition to outdo each other by dressing up their tables. Dull regrets she only gets a peek at the joy and good times happening around the decorated tables as she lines up volunteers with plates.
“It is really a wonderful time. When they first come in and see all the tables, it’s like Christmas for them. It’s a nice way to give back to seniors,” she said.
A Christmas call to service
Pat Schwarz, dressed in a bright green sweater decorated with reindeer, stirred mashed potatoes. She has been on kitchen crew practically ever since the holiday luncheon began. She said the work never gets too overwhelming even as the event has grown during the years.
“When you see the little people come in here and they smile when they get the food, the gifts, and the love that is given to them by the volunteers and the church, it is all worth it. It makes all the effort worth it,” said Schwarz.
Dressed in a “Holly Jolly” T-shirt, Joy Crowder hovered over her table to make it just right. The plates and tea set decorated with poinsettias were a set given to her 30 years ago by her husband when she complained about the lack of festive dinnerware. The bright flowers circling the candle holder were her craft creation, along with placemats with glitter.
“You just decorate it with whatever you have. (Seniors) are so appreciative. They thank you profusely,” said Crowder.
The parish has been hosting the event for 20 years. It has been moved around the parish campus three times, to its largest room as the number of guests increase. This year, eight nearby senior residences shuttled residents to participate. The community Volunteer Aging Council donated $1,000 to the parish to defray about half the cost.
Four times a year this parish, which has some 3,200 registered families, invites seniors to an afternoon of bingo prizes and food, often the favorite is fried chicken. But the Christmas event is the most popular so the free registration takes place in October.
Father Larry Niese, the longtime pastor, said the event is just one of the opportunities for the parish to serve the community.
“The call to service is really obvious here. They do it with great love,” said Father Niese.
The volunteers, from parish teens to retirees, spend a few hours here to prepare, serve and clean, he said. “People are here because they want to be here.”
More than two dozen volunteers wait on tables, deliver food, pour the coffee and finally deliver the presents.
Dawn Kendra works at a nearby senior center and brought a few of her clients to the event. She was about to give her group their bags of goodies, coffee mugs, hot chocolate mix, cookie straws and peppermint assembled by the organizers.
Kendra said she’s long been impressed by the care shown by the church volunteers.
“It is amazing. The food is always delicious,” she said. “Everyone here is so kind. They don’t care what denomination they are. They want to give their servant heart and love.”