Preparing a free Christmas dinner for 300 people may sound overwhelming, but it's something Les and Dorothy Mergelman and the Cedaredge Rotary Club have been doing for years.
The annual event is reminiscent of a scene from a heartwarming old-fashioned Christmas movie as the Cedaredge community gathers to enjoy hearty food and good company. Community members in need of a hot meal, those in need of someone to spend Christmas with, and those who know how delicious and fun this special tradition has become -- all are welcome. The meal is free with contributions welcomed at the door.
The dinner has been an annual tradition since 2000 when Bob and Sally Beeson joined with other community members to host a Christmas gathering. In 2007, the Beesons decided to spend their winters out of state and the Mergelmans along with Jack and Bev Gardner stepped up to manage the dinner. Each year the number of participants increased and soon more help was needed.
In 2013 Rotary began partnering with the Mergelmans to continue the tradition. Rotary member Phyllis Hoffman has been heading up the effort for the last four years. Phyllis oversees advertising, fundraising, shopping, cooking, decorating, serving, delivering to homebound neighbors and she even coordinates the clean-up. All that takes a village, and the village happily pitches in.
Local restaurants loan equipment and local churches help by picking up boxes of food and recipes and then congregation members prepare green beans, sweet potatoes, and dressing. Every year Cedaredge's Elberta Rebekah Lodge #106 provides desserts. On Christmas Eve, volunteers "deck the halls" of the historic Stolte apple packing shed at Pioneer Town to transform the spacious facility into a Christmas dining room.
On Dec. 25, volunteer kitchen workers arrive early in the morning to begin making apple salad and mashed potatoes and gravy. And -- despite the lingering drought -- organizers hope that volunteers will be busy in the parking lot shoveling a white Christmas snowfall. More volunteers serve the meal from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. as friends, families, and neighbors arrive for dinner. Finally, an essential volunteer clean-up crew gets to work scouring pots and pans, stacking chairs and tables, and packing everything up.
The community can help make this year's Christmas dinner a success. To be part of this rewarding holiday tradition, community members are urged to volunteer and make cash donations. To volunteer, call Marsha Bryan at 970-234-8800. To contribute funds, mail checks made out to "Rotary Christmas Dinner" to Cedaredge Rotary, PO Box 750, Cedaredge, CO 81413.