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Restaurant doling out free holiday helpings

December 22, 1997

by Joe Crocetta / staff photographer

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Restaurant doling out free holiday helpings

By RICHARD F. BELISLE

Staff Writer, Waynesboro

BLUE RIDGE SUMMIT, Pa. - Mike Pryor will plunk four big hams into the ovens at his Mountain Shadow restaurant today and follow them Wednesday with six large turkeys, enough meat to feed the nearly 500 people who will likely be enjoying his free Christmas dinners Thursday.

About half of the diners will come into his restaurant on the top of the hill on Pa. 16 in Blue Ridge Summit between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Christmas Day.

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There are volunteers like his Aunt Margaret Benchoff, who comes in the day before Christmas to cook the turkeys, and Ed Worth, who shows up every Christmas morning to carve the turkeys and hams. Others help set the tables, serve the food, deliver meals, drive people to the restaurant and help clean up afterward.

Some volunteers have been helping out since Pryor began serving free Christmas dinners in 1985. He opened the restaurant in 1981.

"We have 16 to 18 people volunteer every year to help. We couldn't do it without them," Pryor said.

"I've never figured out the cost. I don't know what it is. I just feel I owe this to the community and to my customers for supporting me all year," he said.

"Many of my customers eat two and three meals a day here. And there are a lot of people out there who have no place to go on Christmas," he said.

About 40 percent of the people who take advantage of Pryor's holiday hospitality are his regular customers, he said.

The volunteers deliver a lot of free meals to the elderly and shut-ins on Christmas. People in the area who have to work, like police officers, firefighters and ambulance crews, also are recipients of delivered meals. People who live alone with nowhere to go on Christmas are driven to the restaurant for dinner.

Christmas dinner at Mountain Shadow has become a tradition for some folks.

"The first year they were all strangers, now many of them sit at the same table every year. They get to see a lot of old friends again," Pryor said.

Most years Pryor and his employees adopt a needy area family and buy presents for them in addition to Christmas dinner.

He also accepts monetary donations during the dinner for the annual trip by less-fortunate families to Chincoteague Island in Virginia for the annual wild pony swim, another Pryor tradition.

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