State Representative Dr. Vernon Smith serves food to the guests attending The Spirit of Christmas on December 25, 2013. | Jim Karczewski\For Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 27, 2014 12:40PM
GARY — For those without family or the means to find a hearty meal on Christmas, volunteers helped prepare a Christmas meal for over 600 people on Wednesday.
The meal was offered through a collection of volunteers, led by State Rep. Vernon Smith of Gary, he said the goal of the Spirit of Christmas meal was to provide a place for people to come together during the holiday.
“This meal is for anyone who needs it, whether its the needy, the homeless, the elderly or people who are simply lonely,” Smith said, “It can be a horrible day for those who have no one to share it with.”
The targeted recipients were those living in Hammond, Gary, East Chicago, Hobart and Merrillville, but not a requirement.
Joseph Moore of Gary enjoyed every part of the menu he could fit on the plate. The menu included turkey, ham dressing, candied yams, string beans, macaroni and cheese, corn pudding casserole, potato salad, rolls, pastries and candy.
“It makes for a great Christmas,” Moore said. “I enjoyed the whole meal.”
The tradition has lasted for 26 years, and Smith said this year was dedicated to the memory of his mother, Rev. Julia E. Smith, and Patricia Tillison, one of the dinner’s first volunteers.
Donations for the meal came from local businesses, individuals, and grocers.
Long lines formed throughout the hallway leading to the basement of Ivy Tech Gary campus Christmas Day. The dining hall could only serve about 120 people at a time.
Before the meal, Rep. Smith said to the crowd the reason behind the season was the birth of Jesus Christ, and encouraged those to find a way to accept the faith into their lives.
“We’re hear to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ,” Smith said, “It’s about the gift that God gave us in his Son.
“There are a number of volunteers that have put in about a month and a half of their time for this event,” he said to the crowd. “It doesn’t just happen.”
“Why do we do this? We want you to understand the significance of this holiday.”
After sharing his thoughts, Smith invived Bishop Norman, J Hairston II, past of Zion Progressive Cathedral in Gary, to lead in prayer.
Cooking began a few days before, said Bernneta Ford, a volunteer chef involved for over seven years.
Ford and Chef Milton Mathis came into the Ivy Tech kitchen with Smith and a six man crew to begin meal preparations. Both are professional chefs.
“Then we come in Christmas Day and prepare everything, along with all the volunteers.” Ford said. “It’s a lot of work and preparation, but we come together to offer a great meal for them.”
More than 75 volunteers had been working all day decorating the dining hall, cooking the meal, and organizing.
Many of the volunteers said they wanted to give back to the community.
“What keeps me coming back is the Spirit of Christmas and just knowing that I can keep coming back to help the community every year,” Ford said.
“It’s the fellowship for me,” Mathis said when asked why he’s volunteered for 12 years, “I really enjoy the fellowship with the staff and the camraderie.”