The annual community Christmas dinner hosted at the Stolte Shed on Christmas Day combined holiday cheer and community spirit in an event that again surpassed organizers' expectations of success.
The event is coordinated and hosted by the Cedaredge Rotary Club with overwhelming support from a small army of local volunteers.
"One of the most heartwarming things about the event this year was how everyone pitched in when called on to help. The volunteers came from every direction," said Paul Lyons, Rotary Club president. "It really was a great outpouring of the human spirit. It was very gratifying."
Organizers estimated that as many as 350 meals were served during the three-hour-long event. Lyons said, "We served 345 to 350 dinners which is some 50 or 60 more than last year."
In addition to a record number of new faces in town who enjoyed a merry Christmas feast with valley residents, the Rotary Club's call for volunteer help to stage the event resulted in an enthusiastic response that was fully up to the task of preparing the meals, serving diners and cleaning up afterward.
Rotarian Gloria Good, who was in charge of coordinating volunteers, said that at least 40 to 50 people asked to be put to work helping with the dinner.
"The people called in and volunteered to help," said Good. "When the volunteer work slots filled, we asked them to bring in a dessert. Howie and Gloria Powell of the Tri-R Motel brought in 10 pies."
The dessert table stretched the length of the Stolte Shed's long north wall. In the annals of Surface Creek Valley potluck events, the dessert offerings almost rivaled the dessert table provided at Pioneer Town's annual summertime ice cream social.
"It took the whole community and we are really grateful for all of the response and help," said Good.
Volunteer help in the kitchen was organized by Rotarian Phyllis Hoffman. The Stolte's small kitchen was a beehive of activity as volunteers cooked up mashed potatoes and gravy, kept the coffee pots perking, and made sure that the all-important serving line volunteers were well stocked with turkey, ham, delicious dressing flavored with good things like fresh celery and onion, sweet potatoes, green beans, rolls, apple salad and cranberry sauce for the guests. Hoffman and fellow Rotarian Phil Ellsworth took leading roles in the dish washing chores after all the feasting had ended.
There were volunteers who helped with seating guests and bussing tables. Two standouts among the dining room crew earning compliments were David and Dakota Martinez, sons of chamber of commerce director Lisa Martinez.
It was only a few years ago that growth of the event led to a call from its originators, including Les and Dorothy Jean Mergelman, for community help with the growing and popular holiday tradition. The community's response resulted in an informal yet highly reliable community grass roots enterprise that comes together each year to make the dinner tradition continue.
Lyons explains that the Rotarians coordinate activities. The Mergelmans are still key contributors by deciding on the food purchases and cooking all of the ham and turkey and then slicing it for Christmas morning.
In addition, the Mergelmans loan their roaster ovens and supply the recipes for the side dishes that were served on Christmas. The side dishes are prepared by local church members who deliver their delicious sides on the morning of the big feast, and many stay to help during the dinner.
Lyons said, "We could not have done it without the churches participating, and we send out a special thank you to the churches."
Lyons added, "I am very glad about the organization that has developed, and I am very proud of it. A big thank you to the entire community and to everyone for how much we appreciate everyone who pitched in to help."
The tradition will continue. "The Cedaredge Rotary Club will be involved again next year," Lyons said.
Two fatal accidents occurred in Delta County within a two-day span last week.
Casey Gillenwater, 25, of Delta was killed the afternoon of Wednesday, Sept. 13, in a single-vehicle rollover on Highway 133 outside of Hotchkiss.