BUCKHANNON – Although comfort and joy is usually associated with Christmastime, for some, the holidays feel like a rough patch – especially for those who are alone.
Luckily, for Upshur County residents, there’s the Upshur Parish House.
Since 2000, the Parish House has provided folks spending the holiday alone with a Christmas meal and the camaraderie people often crave during the Yuletide season.
Throughout those roughly 18 years, the community Christmas dinner has grown immensely, to the point now that roughly 400 people are served.
“The changes that have been made have gone from a basic dinner, which they offered in the beginning because they weren’t sure how many volunteers they could get, to do this, and so they just wanted to make sure someone had a place to go to eat on Christmas Day and so they wouldn’t be alone,” said Alicia Rapking, director of the Parish House.
Aside from the guests who are served, Rapking said the volunteerism with the dinner has grown as well.
“We have grown to the point where we have around 65 volunteers, and we do a lot,” she said. “We offer an extensive menu now. We have wait staff, and we have the Fellowship Hall (Engle Hall) at Chapel Hill – it’s very eloquent, and so that’s the word I keep going for every year. We’re trying to offer eloquent, so people can really celebrate and enjoy Christmas even though they may be alone, and they can come together with their neighbors and friends and celebrate the day.”
Each year, the free annual community Christmas banquet has offered its guests a traditional holiday meal with all the fixins’ included and homemade desserts to choose from. This year, guests will be served oven-baked ham and herb-roasted chicken breast, sides, coffee and iced tea.
Aside from the sit-down dinner, coordinators also provide delivery services and offer take-out meals.
“We deliver right around 100 meals every year, and many of them are the same people,” said Rapking. “Year to year, they’re people who can’t ordinarily get out, or some of them don’t have the means to get out to come to us.”
Another 100 meals are take-out orders, Rapking said.
While the delicious meats, side dishes and baked goods may be a good reason to attend the dinner, the gathering of neighbors and friends is what makes the event so well-attended.
“I cannot imagine spending Christmas Day by myself in front of the TV eating TV dinners, and so for me, having this place available so that people can come and remember that this is an important day – that this is a day unlike any other day of the year – and it should be spent differently [is important],” Rapking said. “It should be spent celebrating. It should be spent reflecting. It should be spent in the company of really good neighbors and friends.”
She added, “And I know that our philosophy over the years is going to include that understanding, that we don’t want anybody to be alone on Christmas Day.”
Rapking said the dinner receives a number of folks walking different paths of life.
“But the ones that warm my heart the most are particularly the folks who are alone,” she remarked. “They don’t have family in the area, and otherwise, the day would be just like any other day.”
Anyone who wants to volunteer is welcome.
“We don’t turn down any volunteers,” Rapking said, “and it takes quite a few because we need folks to help us cook. We need folks to wait the tables. We need folks to serve up the food, to clean up afterwards, to put things away, and so we could use volunteers all day long or even just an hour here or there.”
If you’d like to provide homemade desserts, treats will be accepted from 9-10 a.m. on Christmas Eve, Monday, Dec. 24, or before 10 a.m. on Christmas Day, Tuesday, Dec. 25, at Chapel Hill UM Church. Please use a container that need not be returned; additionally, all desserts must be clearly labeled with your name, phone number and type of dessert. Sugar-free and gluten-free desserts are also needed.
For those with questions about volunteering or other aspects of the dinner, a telephone voicemail has been set up specifically for the annual dinner.
Call 304-613-6552 to leave a detailed message. To volunteer or request meal delivery or take-out, call between Saturday, Dec. 15 and Sunday, Dec. 23. Please note all calls to Parish House will be directed to call the new voicemail number, and a volunteer will return the call.
Christmas dinner will be served from 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. at Chapel Hill UM Church in Engle Hall on Kanawha Street in Buckhannon; doors will open at 11:15 a.m.
“Everyone is invited. Everyone is welcomed,” said Rapking. “Let’s come celebrate together.”