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Nick hosts festive feast

December 27, 2001

Nick hosts festive feast



By ANDREW SCHOTZ
andrews@herald-mail.com


The food at Nick Giannaris' annual free Christmas Day feast never seems to run out.

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"Nick can always go back to the kitchen and come back with something more," said George Turner, who helped start the humanitarian tradition with Giannaris in 1986.

Giannaris stays a step ahead of the demand. Normally, his staff prepares 40 turkeys. This year, there were 45 and Giannaris was scrambling to find more.

Six hundred pounds of potatoes. Three pots of gravy. A thousand slices of pie. Hams, too, but Giannaris forgot how many.

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The only shortage Tuesday was the 300 or so "Hello, my name is..." tags for volunteers, which ran out halfway through the meal. The remaining 100 to 200 helpers had to wear yellow adhesive notes on their chests.

For much of the day, the line of people waiting for food stretched outside the door of the Four Points Hotel Sheraton dining room.

Turner Van Service, County Commuter and individuals gave rides to people who needed them.

Children left clutching free toys, some of them courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots program.

The number of volunteers appeared to be as great as the number of diners. They served, took orders, bused tables, handed out presents and generally swarmed throughout the room all morning and afternoon.

Teresa Dumpe of Hagerstown, one of the volunteers, sat for a meal as the afternoon wound down. This was the second year of helping for Dumpe and her sons, Scott, 13, and Joey, 11, who go to St. Mary's School.

"I have always (volunteered) at school. As they get older, it's important to see their parents volunteering," she said.

Scott said he didn't like the idea last year, but got used to the work as the day went along.

This year, both boys were willing from the start, their mother said.

Violet and Larry Rice of Falling Waters, W.Va., were helping for the 12th year. Their daughter, Laura Rice, and her boyfriend, Mark Obitts, joined Larry Rice on the serving line.

Larry Rice "graduated" this year from serving mashed potatoes to serving turkey dressing, joked Violet's sister, Nancy Detrich.

Detrich, who works on a U.S. Army base in Germany, was back in the area on leave. Since her sister hasn't lived here since 1976, she technically came the longest way to help out, Violet Rice said.

The Robinsons drove from Mercersburg, Pa.

Tyler Robinson, 11, who goes to Shalom Christian Academy in Marion, Pa., asked his mother, Nancy, for the last two years if the family could volunteer at the annual dinner. This year, she said yes.

Tyler's grandfather, Randy Meyers, joined them.

"It's hard work," Tyler said.

Turner said there's frequently a wide array of helpers, from doctors and judges to homeless people without jobs.

The diners are similarly eclectic.

Nick's feast is not just for the poor. It welcomes anyone without a companion for the day - anyone at all, really.

Roy and Thelma Mills of Hagerstown stopped by for the first time. It's normally just the two of them together on Christmas.

"He just wanted to give me a break (from cooking)," Thelma Mills said.

Laura Grove's mother and father died within the past year. Bill Grove's mother is 85 and can't get out. The couple's daughter left their home.

Giannaris, 67, said the spirit of the meal matches something his mother did as he grew up in Greece: cook extra for less-fortunate neighbors.

He said he's been blessed with wonderful volunteers, including two chefs who have each worked for him more than 20 years and have everything ready by the time he arrives Christmas morning.

The dinner will go on as long he does, Giannaris said.

"The more you give," he said, "the more God gives you."

"I hope he lives to be 500," Turner said.

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