“This is all designed to cater to those in need,” said Keith Gombash, CATCH vice president. “We can throw together a dinner and feed people, but we want them to retain their dignity. We want to love on them and share our stories with them.”
This year’s dinner will be held Saturday at the Tucker Unit on 3rd Street. Doors will open at 10:15 a.m. and close at 2:30 p.m. Gombash said more than 1,000 are expected to turn out for the feast.
“The first year we had the dinner the same day as St. Therese [of Lisieux Catholic Church, which held a similar event] and 450 people showed up. The second year we tried to schedule it a different day than St. Therese’s and we were unable to. Six-hundred people showed up last year,” Gombash said. “St. Therese had their dinner last week and they served 996.”
Added Gombash, “A lot of the same people will come to ours and enjoy another meal and fellowship.”
Volunteers will arrive on Friday evening to work through the night. According to Gombash, there will be a total of 40 turkeys and 18 to 20 hams. A number of local restaurants have donated food, including Olive Garden, Outback and O’Charleys among others. The turkeys were donated by Whirlpool.
“One thing about Cleveland, if you ask, they [community members] will move heaven and earth to get what you need,” Gombash said.
Anyone interested in donating to the cause can bring by a dessert to the Tucker Unit by Friday at 6 p.m.
A total of 130 people will be fed and entertained at a time. Participants will sign in before being taken to the Tucker Unit’s arts and entertainment room. There they will watch a short video and listen to a musician. The story of the birth of Christ will be shared.
Gombash said participants will then be given the opportunity “to make a decision for Christ.”
The dining area will be laid out with 20 tables covered in white tablecloths. A big Christmas tree with presents underneath will be situated in the room. A waitstaff comprised of Mount Olive Ministries youth, and various other churches, will wait on the patrons.
“They will do a two-step type of dance in addition to bringing out the food,” Gombash said. “Those eating will have a menu with a choice between [ham or turkey] and side items like mashed potatoes and gravy.”
An emcee will play songs while the patrons eat. There will also be a photographer to take family photos. Each family will receive their photo at the end of the day. A full-service coffee bar provided by Westwood Baptist Church will provide coffee to adults and hot chocolate to the children.
“After they eat and are updated on other Christmas activities, they will line up to pick out gifts for children up to the age of 13,” Gombash said.
Gombash recalled a favorite memory from a recent community Christmas dinner.
“A lady had just lost her job. She said, ‘I really do not know which way is up.’ She had two kids with her,” Gombash said.
He said a volunteer heard the story and went about collecting goods for the family. Half of her truck’s bed was filled with items by the time she was ready to leave. Gombash still remembers the look on her face.
“She came back inside and said, ‘I cannot take this.’ She stayed the rest of the afternoon helping to serve food while her children bussed tables,” Gombash said.
The “Catch the Spirit” Community Christmas Celebration will also include a new feature this year. Volunteers from Westwood Baptist Church, various other churches, and Lee University will deliver hot meals to elderly shut-ins. These meals will go to more than 200 recipients.