Organizer of annual Pa. Christmas dinner 'makes miracles'

December 25, 2011|By C.J. LOVELACE |
  • Volunteers serve meals Sunday during the Chambersburg Salvation Army's annual free Christmas dinner.
Photo by C.J. Lovelace

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — Although she’s Jewish and does not celebrate Christmas, Lynne Newman has helped thousands of Chambersburg area residents have a better holiday for the past two decades.

Under Newman’s direction for the 20th consecutive year, about 200 volunteers gave up part of their Christmas Day to put on a free turkey dinner and give out presents at the Franklin County Salvation Army lunchroom in Chambersburg.

“I don’t care if I celebrate Christmas or not. That’s not what’s important,” Newman said. “It’s that the people who do celebrate Christmas have one.”

Newman expected to serve close to 400 meals at the Salvation Army’s Lincoln Way West location between noon and 2 p.m. while another 200 meals were delivered to people who could not make it out, many of whom were senior citizens who would not have a Christmas meal or gifts otherwise.

“That’s what we’ve done for the past three or four years, amazingly,” Newman said. “We had a lot of volunteers. I didn’t think we had as many this year as we have before, but we had like 900 presents wrapped in an hour and a half. I was shocked.”

Newman, who buys some gifts and food herself, was quick to note the fundraising efforts of Alex and Tyler Schott of Chambersburg, both of whom have helped collect gifts the past few years for the event.

“We had 600 from (the Schotts) and at least 300 from other people, probably more because we’re still giving out,” Newman said. “We probably have closer to 1,200 because I’m giving almost everybody two presents and a teddy bear or a stuffed animal. And that includes the people who we’ve sent (meals) to.”

Meals were sent to senior centers around the area, including South Mountain, Concord, Shippensburg, Greencastle, Waynesboro and beyond, Newman said. On-duty police, fire and emergency services personnel also received meals.

Celebrating their first Christmas as a couple, Komi and David Harrison of Chambersburg were eating inside the packed lunchroom during Sunday’s meal, which consisted of turkey, stuffing, mashed and sweet potatoes, plus all the gravy, fruit salad and fixings to go with it.

“There are lots of great volunteers and they are ever so helpful,” Komi Harrison said.

Barb and Donald Danner of Chambersburg have been helping out with the event for about the last 15 years to give back to their community. They gladly spent a couple of hours working on Newman’s “assembly line” in The Salvation Army’s kitchen on Sunday.

“We enjoy it every year,” Donald Danner said.

The couple said they would be joining family later in the Camp Hill, Pa., area, but laughed when they said they would not be doing any of the cooking.

Another longtime volunteer, 25-year-old Jeffrey Cordell, originally from Mercersburg, Pa., has been helping out since he was an 11-year-old Boy Scout looking for community service hours to fulfill a merit badge requirement.

Cordell has become Newman’s “drinks guy” on the day of the dinner and hasn’t missed it in 14 years.

“I figured that I take from people all year long; why not give one day to somebody else?” Cordell said. “I can get up at 6 o’clock, even if I don’t open up my gifts or anything, and I can come in here and make somebody else’s day just a little bit better. That’s part of the reason I’ve been coming back.”

Although the small army of volunteers makes the event a success each year, it really is the brainchild of Newman, who coordinates the yearly effort. It all started two decades ago when she and her church, Congregation Sons of Israel synagogue in Chambersburg, decided they wanted to give Salvation Army employees a day off to spend with their families as well as give others a better Christmas.

“It’s not whether I celebrate (Christmas) that counts,” Newman said. “It’s that they do and they should have the best Christmas ever. I have a great Hannukkah.”

Volunteers agree that what Newman does for the community is amazing, putting in a lot of time and effort in the weeks leading up to Christmas and getting up before 5 a.m. on Christmas Day to continue cooking food that she started the night before.

But Newman insists it’s not about her and values her volunteers just as much as the people they provide for.

“I think that’s part of the reason I keep coming back because it takes a little bit off of her,” Cordell said.

One woman stopped to thank Newman for the meal and gifts before she left Sunday, especially because she “didn’t get anything else for Christmas.”

Perhaps Barb Danner explained it best when asked what Newman’s efforts mean for the community.

“She makes miracles.”

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