WILKES-BARRE – Dozens of poinsettias, strains of Christmas carols and the aroma of roast turkey filled the hall of First Presbyterian Church on Tuesday, adding to a festive feeling of togetherness shared among folks who on any other day might consider each other strangers.
I love it. I just gives you a feeling of Christmas to be here when you're alone. Today, I'm by myself, but I'm not by myself, said Gloria Blizard, one of more than 100 people who attended the 35th annual Christmas Together, which the church presented in cooperation with CEO – People Helping People.
I just planned on staying in bed today, but my fiend Janet called me and said, ‘Come to church with me,' Blizard said.
Janet Szymanski, of Wilkes-Barre, said she hadn't been to the Christmas Together dinner for six or seven years, but decided to attend this year's because I didn't feel like being by myself. It was excellent. I'm stuffed like a piggy, she said with a laugh.
The Rev. Bob Zanicky said he has lovingly observed how the tradition has brightened the holidays of thousands of people over his 25 years as pastor at the church.
Maybe their family lives out of town, so this way, they could be together. We have it at the church, but it's always been a communitywide event. We've had members of all churches and the Jewish community come in and help on Christmas here. We get donations from all over the community, monetary and in-kind, Zanicky said.
The tradition began a year after parishioners Nancy and Dave Frey visited Dave's brother, Herb, a pastor in San Francisco who had been assistant pastor at First Presbyterian, and brought the idea back with them.
Dave Frey died nine years ago, but Nancy has remained a driving force behind the annual dinner. On Tuesday, she was hustling around, giving direction to volunteers who prepared and served the dinner as well as to volunteer drivers who delivered meals to the homebound. She assigned her son, William, the job of spokesman.
Every Christmas, we got up at 5 in the morning when we were kids, William, 26, said of himself and his brother, Ethan, 24. By 9 a.m., we'd be with my dad planning delivery routes for the drivers and showing off our new Christmas gifts to people.
William, who now lives and works in New York City, returns home every Christmas to help out. He explained why his parents thought a community meal on Christmas is important.
Back then, even the soup kitchens were closed on Christmas. It was as much about bringing people together and adding cheer to their day as it was about giving people a meal who might not otherwise have one. There is a high proportion of elderly people here who can't visit their children on a regular basis. … And it really means a lot to those who don't get out much, William Frey said.
V. Dombroski said Tuesday's dinner was his 12th at the church.
He cherished Christmas dinners when my wife and children were alive. Now, I have no place to go, said Dombroski, 88, of Kingston. It makes me feel good. I look forward to it.
Some facts about the Christmas Together dinner at First Presbyterian Church
26 – 25-pound turkeys roasted
150 – pounds of potatoes mashed
5 – cases of canned yams served
7 – dozen pies baked
100+ – volunteer servers and drivers
100+ – people who dined at the church hall
400+ – turkey dinners delivered