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Dinner with doc

December 17, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

A week after Hagerstown philanthropist Nick Giannaris canceled his annual Christmas dinner for the needy and lonely, a group of local doctors has stepped forward to fill the void.

Washington County emergency room doctor Scott Wegner already had organized volunteers to deliver about 500 meals to seniors living in public housing on Christmas Eve.

But his plans expanded further after Giannaris announced last week that his health would prevent him from hosting the popular Christmas feast at the Four Points Sheraton.

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"We thought, 'how much harder can it be to feed a thousand rather than 500?'" Wegner said.

At least 500 turkey and ham dinners will be delivered and the rest will be served in the atrium of Robinwood Medical Center on Robinwood Drive.

The meal will be offered from 1 to 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

Hospital employees and their spouses are baking pies for the occasion. The medical staff and the hospital have donated money to buy the food, Wegner said.

Volunteers, rounded up by Wegner and the other emergency room physicians, will prepare traditional holiday side dishes of stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, cranberry sauce and dinner rolls.

Emmanuel United Methodist Church in Hagerstown has donated the use of its kitchen.

Penn Avenue Meats in Hagerstown will cook 300 pounds of ham and debone the turkey breasts, which will be roasted at the hospital by the food service staff.

The hospital is donating the use of a truck to get the food to Robinwood.

Pfizer, a pharmaceutical company, is paying for a band to play Christmas music at Robinwood.

Ambulance workers have volunteered to help deliver the meals.

Wegner, 41, of Germantown, Md., said the group is not trying to duplicate Giannaris' dinner, which served up to 1,500 people a year for the past 17 years.

"We're not Nick and we actually kind of cringe at the comparison," he said.

Wegner said he loves to cook and came up with the idea last year when he was entertaining friends at Thanksgiving.

Within the space of a few weeks, he had rounded up enough volunteers to make and deliver 350 Christmas Eve meals to residents of Potomac Towers and Walnut Towers.

"It was just sort of a desire to do something fun for people," he said.

Many of the emergency room's patients are older people who fall through the cracks of the social service network, he said.

He said patients have come to the emergency room at dinnertime because they know they'll get a meal.

Wegner and the other emergency room doctors hope their Christmas Eve dinner becomes an annual tradition.

They also would like to begin organizing other charitable events throughout the year.

"We've got so many families here and so many people who are willing to help," he said.

For Christmas Eve, Wegner has 30 to 40 volunteers lined up. Most are emergency room staff members and their families.

More volunteers are needed to deliver meals and talk to guests who don't have dinner companions, Wegner said.

People who are interested can call the hospital's development office at 301-790-8631, said hospital spokeswoman Kelly Redmond.

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