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Pa. holiday dinner a tradition of sharing

December 26, 2006|by ERIN JULIUS

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Christmas isn't their holiday, but members of the Congregation Sons of Israel want to make Christmas as merry as possible for those who do celebrate with Santa Claus and evergreen trees.

Monday marked the 15th year that Lynne Newman spent Dec. 25 organizing a Christmas dinner at the Salvation Army in Chambersburg. She's in the kitchen by 6 a.m., roasting turkeys and preparing her signature sweet potatoes.

"It should be as enjoyable for them as it can be," Newman said.

Volunteers served more than 350 plates of turkey, stuffing, green beans, corn, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and desserts.

For people who couldn't make it to the Salvation Army, volunteers delivered meals.

Clara Smith, 80, lives alone, and started celebrating Christmas at the dinner 14 years ago.

"It's a beautiful dinner ... It's my tradition," she said. "I think it's fantastic that they do this."

Smith also ordered a meal for her neighbor, an elderly man who couldn't make it himself, she said.

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The dinner is held in a wood-paneled gym, with green wreaths hung underneath the basketball hoops. A Christmas tree twinkled in the corner and garland was wrapped around all the doors and windows.

"The kids and I decided this would be a nice thing to do for the less fortunate," said Keith Leonard, of Waynesboro, Pa.

Leonard and his children, Nathan, 17, and Sarah, 8, started working at the Christmas dinner three years ago.

This year, Jan Leonard joined her husband and kids in the family's "Christmas" tradition.

"It's nice to help other people celebrate their holiday," she said.

Some volunteers do celebrate Christmas, and make time to serve up food before their own festivities.

Richard Gossert, of Waynesboro, Pa., arrived at the Salvation Army by 7 a.m. to help with food preparation. Gossert started volunteering six years ago. Once, he delivered a meal to a blind man who had to use a walker to move around, Gossert said.

"He had no family there. What's he going to have, SpaghettiOs, Oodles of Noodles?" Gossert said.

The feeling he gets in his heart when he makes someone's Christmas better brings him back year after year, said Gossert, before he left to open Christmas presents with his girlfriend's children.

The Salvation Army donates some of the food to the annual Christmas dinner, and volunteers bring some, Newman said.

Everyone who attends the Christmas dinner is sent home with a gift. Meals delivered to the home-bound are also accompanied by gifts. People donate toiletries, gloves, hats, robes and toys, Newman said.

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