Families brought food, gifts and a giant Christmas tree to St. Michael’s Church in Newark for the first official Community Shared Christmas Dinner.
They had no place else to go that Christmas day more than 40 years ago when Regina Krolak invited the men from the nearby developmentally disabled home to dinner. Back then, there were no restaurants open on Christmas day; not even a place to get a warm cup of coffee.
“It was a true Christmas that year,” Krolak recalled fondly. “They made our Christmas special.”
The dinner became an annual event at the Krolak home and every year there were more guests. Krolak was the mother of eight children and it wasn’t long until she simply ran out of room.
“My table got too small,” she said. “So I went to the local churches to ask for help.”
Families brought food, gifts and a giant Christmas tree to St. Michael’s Church in Newark for the first official Community Shared Christmas Dinner. With Krolak at the helm, the dinner grow from year to year, outgrowing St. Michael’s. That’s when Together in Christ, a committee of people from all the churches in Newark, took over the dinner.
“That was wonderful,” Krolak said.
She wasn’t really surprised by the dinner’s growing success. It was what she had hoped for from the beginning.
“Every year is something new,” she said. “Every year it’s something special.”
Over the years, people from the community and beyond have come to help with the dinner. From cooking to serving, volunteers have traveled from Rochester, Syracuse, Clifton Springs and Shortsville to lend a hand and share in the dinner’s spirit. Krolak remembers a one woman who came from Rochester after reading about the dinner in the newspaper.
“She came bouncing in so happy and full of joy,” Krolak said. “She said, ‘This is so wonderful. I see Jesus right here.’ She inspired me.”
Today the dinner serves about 175 to 180 people who come from as far and wide as the volunteers. Some 150 pounds of turkey are roasted to perfection with stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, cabbage salad, vegetables, coffee and tea, pie and, of course, Christmas cookies to snack on.
Organizing such a huge affair has been planned down to the smallest detail, Krolak said, with a to do list that tells them when to turn on the dishwasher, what time to start the gravy and when to heat up the ovens. That list has been a Godsend for Karen Vanderbrook who is taking the reins from Krolak to keep the Community Shared Christmas Dinner going.
After 40 years, Krolak is stepping aside, although she will still be around to help out. At 81, she said her family needs her.
“It’s the same thing as moving from a big house to small one,” she said. “I was ready. There’s always a time for everything.”
Vanderbrook is grateful for Krolak’s guidance and the to do list that allows her to manage all the “leg work.”
“She made it easy for me to step in and start organizing,” Vanderbrook said of Krolak. “She’s been directing me.”
The dinner requires a great deal of work from booking musicians to signing up students from the high school to help set the tables. Vanderbrook said she began working on it in October. It includes help from Palmer’s Distributing for some of the food and The Apple Shed donates apples. Flowers have always been among the donations, to decorate the tables at the church and to give to shut ins when meals are delivered. This year, Krolak is hoping they will fins a new donor to provide 50 to 75 poinsettias or other holiday flower to the dinner.
In the meantime, Vanderbrook has lined some favorites. Rev. Andrew White from St. Mark’s will perform the benediction, Randy Bouwens will be on piano and Robin Ketchum and family will perform their music for attendees.
Local firefighters from the Arcadia Hose Co. of the Newark Fire Department step forward every year to deliver meals to shut ins and Paul Murphy provides transportation to those needing it. Every year, Vanderbrook said they always have lots of volunteers to help with all aspects of the dinner.
“That’s the most important part because we wouldn’t be able to do this without all the helpers we have,” she said.
Vanderbrook remembers when she first started volunteering at the dinner. She had read the notice in the paper 7 years ago and called Krolak to inquire.
“She said sure come on down and so I did,” Vanderbrook said. “Its’ really been a good experience for me, a fun experience. And I’ve certainly met a lot of people.”
For Vanderbrook it’s the camaraderie that makes the day so special.
“Every year it seems to be an atmosphere of togetherness, gratitude, people helping one another, giving and caring,” she said. “It’s a very special thing and I’m glad that I’m able to help.”
This year’s Shared Christmas Dinner will be Tuesday, Dec. 25 at the First United Methodist Church on South Main Street in Newark. Dinner will be served at 1 p.m.
“It’s very rewarding and joyful,” Krolak said. “You feel the spirit of the Lord there. You know it’s Christmas.”
Volunteers are needed on December 23 at the church to help prepare the meal and set up the church hall. Help is needed at 10 a.m. on Christmas Day to finalize preparations, serve and assist in cleanup. To volunteer or for meal delivery call Karen Vanderbrook at 331-7860.
Those needing transportation can call Paul Murphy at 331-3255.
Cash donations can sent to Together in Christ Community Shared Dinner Account c/o Karen Vanderbrook, 103 Cuyler St., Newark, N.Y. 14513.