Shelley Carithers usually makes a holiday meal and shares it with her family on Christmas Day.
But Wednesday the Toledo woman and her daughter Madison Biddle, 11, broke tradition and spent the day serving food to homeless people and others in need through Cherry Street Mission Ministries.
They first helped with lunch at the community center on Madison Avenue. When the young girl asked whether they could return to assist with dinner, Ms. Carithers agreed.
“It’s the day Jesus Christ was born, so I want to help out the people who are less fortunate,” said Madison, a fifth grader at Rosary Cathedral School who volunteered to scoop potatoes during the dinner meal. “It makes you feel happy that people care about other people.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Christmas Dinner at the Cherry Street Mission.
Cherry Street Mission Ministries prepared Christmas dinner for about 350 to be ready to serve more than a typical dinnertime crowd of roughly 130 to 200 people, said Eric Sorge, a member of the agency’s food service staff. He estimated about 60 percent of those who came for the holiday supper were clients of Cherry Street’s shelter, and the rest were community members in need of a meal.
Diners sat around tables as a musician played Christmas songs near a lit tree. A group of volunteers had decorated the hall with strings of garland and other modest ornamentation, and the meal featured sliced ham with a pineapple-brown sugar glaze, broccoli, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cornbread, and rolls.
fter a short prayer, during which the crowd of mostly men removed their hats in a sign of respect, servers carried out plates of food.
Adam Gross of Toledo waited patiently for dinner to be delivered to his table near the back of the dimly lit community center. He’s currently trying to find an apartment and is staying at Cherry Street Mission, a place where he’s found shelter on and off for about nine years.
“I’ve been thankful for it, for a roof over my head ... somewhere to sleep at night — just thankful and glad,” he said.
Mr. Gross has shared holiday meals at the community center before, and said the food is always decent. At Christmas, he’s reminded of family and friends, and despite tough times “there’s still some Christmas spirit there,” he said.
“Organized chaos” is how Mr. Sorge described behind-the-scenes activity in the kitchen as the Christmas meal was readied.
“There’s no way that this could run without God’s hand moving every single day,” he said.
It can make a difference when someone spends time with, and listens to, another person in need.
“I think it really does have the potential to reach their hearts and to remind them of how valuable they are as people,” Mr. Sorge said.
He shouted encouraging words to the group preparing the Christmas dinner and dished out some last-minute instructions before they began to load plates. For Ms. Carithers, it may not have been her family’s traditional Christmas, but the holiday spirit was very much alive.
“We chose to do this instead, put the meaning back into Christmas. ... Instead of receiving, let’s give,” she said.