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Community Christmas Dinner: Gathering to celebrate

From left, the Jones family - Nellie, Randi, Jacklyn, Joseph and Daymon - wait to be served Friday at the community Christmas dinner at Bemidji United Methodist Church. Organizers expected 300-350 to sit down to the roast beef special in the church dining room. Pioneer Photo/Molly Miron1 / 2
Jay and Paula DeClusin were among the 26 drivers who delivered 262 meals to shut-ins Friday during the community Christmas dinner. Pioneer Photo/Molly Miron2 / 2

Heavy and continuing snow seemed to make the community Christmas dinner hosted by Bemidji United Methodist Church especially festive.

Families, friends and singles gathered at tables decked with red Christmas stockings stuffed with greenery for the roast beef, green beans with bacon, mashed potatoes, relishes, rolls and Christmas cookies. The meal was prepared in the St. Philip's Catholic Church kitchen and transferred around the block to BUMC.

Organizer Dave Holles said it was a short-notice decision for BUMC to host the annual holiday dinner.

"We've had two weeks and three days - 17 days that would be," he said of the planning. "About 20 of us yesterday got it set up."

He said 26 drivers delivered 262 dinners and an expected 300-350 people would sit down in the church dining room to be served their meals.

Nancy Holles, helping in the dining room, said her husband, Dave, accomplished "99.9 percent of the work. I'm doing the coffee."

About 100 volunteers worked in the BUMC kitchen, at the entry as greeters and in the dining room as servers and table bussers. At each place was a prayer of thanksgiving printed on festive red paper: "My God, I thank you with all my heart for all the graces you have bestowed on me during my whole life, and especially for those of this day. Amen."

The volunteers were a diverse group - families, couples, BUMC members, members of other churches, such as Kitchi Pines Mennonite Church in Pennington, and the Christian Motorcyclist Association - Riding for the Son, distinguished by their emblem vests.

"This is the first time I did this," said Carol Hess, a member of Kitchi Pines. But she said she was sure she would be able to serve the guests at her assigned table.

Brenda Hensley of Bemidji, foster mother of three teenagers - Natasha Lane, Corley Butterfield and Shelby Butterfield - said they wanted to volunteer as a way to give back to the community.

The youngsters said they opened their presents earlier in the day and wanted to help out with the community dinner at noon.

"Christmas spirit," said Lane.

Gene Peters and his wife Patricia Peters decided to help out as a couple.

"We just do this," Gene said. "We don't have family up here because we grew up in St. Paul."

Tristan Barstad said he is spending Christmas with his grandfather, Russ Barstad, and they came to the dinner together. Tristan said he received good Christmas presents, especially two rapper Eminem CDs he wanted.

The Jones family made up a three-generation table. Nellie Jones and her brother, Daymon Jones, sat with their cousin, Joseph Jones, their auntie, Randi Jones, and their grandmother, Jacklyn Jones. Jacklyn and Randi said they have enjoyed the community Christmas dinner in years past, but this was the first time they brought the children. Nellie said she received two dolls for Christmas, and Joseph and Daymon added to their GI Joe collection.