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Salvation Army dinner fills hearts in Chambersburg

December 26, 2007|By HEATHER KEELS

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. ? Tim Ross woke up Christmas morning with an empty feeling.

The 41-year-old Chambersburg man said the holiday hadn't been the same since his mother died around Christmastime a few years ago. This year, with his brother in Iraq, he faced the prospect of spending the day alone.

Instead, he headed to The Salvation Army in Chambersburg, where decorations, Christmas carols, presents and a hot turkey dinner awaited him.

"By the time you leave, you feel full - your mind, body and soul," he said.

Ross was one of more than 400 people who stopped by The Salvation Army for a helping of cheer Tuesday, making it the largest Christmas dinner the post has ever held, organizer Lynne Newman said.

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Volunteers served up 20 turkeys, four pans of filling, three pans of sweet potatoes and two vats of mashed potatoes, Newman said. They had to refill the corn and green beans. In addition to cranberry sauce, fruit salad was added to the menu this year.

While guests sat at tables decorated with red tablecloths, greenery, oranges and poinsettias, servers took orders, then lined up to have them filled in two assembly lines in the kitchen.

About 70 volunteers helped with meal

"Adult order!" volunteer Al Good called out. "White meat, mashed potatoes, stuffing and gravy!" The volunteers passed the plate. "Takeout, everything, except no white meat, no sweet potato."

Good, 69, of Chambersburg, had been helping prepare the meal since 8 a.m. He said he and his wife have no other family, so they prefer to spend Christmas morning helping others.

Newman said there were about 70 volunteers, some of whom were from her synagogue, the Congregation Sons of Israel, who donate their time so Christian Salvation Army volunteers can have the day off. However, many Christians also make volunteering at the meal part of their holiday tradition, she said.

Twins Rachel and Rebekah Longacre, 16, of Chambersburg, said they were happy to spend the afternoon entertaining the guests with singing, piano and violin music.

"Christmas is spreading joy to the people," Rachel said.

Other volunteers delivered dinners to seniors enrolled in the Meals on Wheels program or listed with the local agency on aging to give staff with those programs the day off. Each recipient also got a poinsettia, three oranges, a teddy bear and a donated gift, such as a hat, a blanket or writing paper and stamps.

Teddy bear windfall

This year, one elderly man said his wife was in the hospital recovering from surgery, leaving him alone for the holiday.

"He was just so happy to see us come in," said Lori Wietry, 48, of Chambersburg.

The teddy bears were a windfall this year, Newman said. One day, a man came into The Salvation Army and asked if Newman could use some teddy bears. She said she could, and she came back later to find about 500 of them.

"I had no idea how many there were," she said. "We were just shocked."

So each child who came to the dinner was offered a bear, and the adults and seniors seemed to appreciate them, too, Newman said. One homebound woman was so glad to get the bear that she reached for it immediately and held onto it, a volunteer said.

Cesar Ramos, 8, was wide-eyed over the piles of toys for the children who attended.

"It was nice that they gave us presents," he said. "I wonder how much money they spent."

Cesar and his brother, Johnny, 11, and sister, Heidi, 13, came with their mother. Normally, they have a big family dinner with presents at home, but this year, money was short after their father moved out, Heidi said.

By the time they left, their bellies were filled with turkey, corn and mashed potatoes, and their arms were full of teddy bears, Silly Putty, Play-Doh, a blanket and a poinsettia.

On all three faces were big grins.

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