It was a Christmas Eve miracle at the free dinner for the elderly, unemployed and homeless of Pettis County on Saturday at Sacred Heart School. Or maybe just a mathematical coincidence: 600 meals were ordered and 600 were served, with no leftovers.
“We ended up right on the dot. It was wonderful,” said Barb Hagebusch, an adviser for the Sacred Heart National Honor Society, which has hosted the event for 29 years. “In the actual cafeteria, we had close to 200 (dinner guests) this year, which is up from last year, and 600 meals total (including delivery orders), which is a lot more than we anticipated.
“I would say that’s probably a record. We’d never run out of food before or gotten that close to running out before, so I’d say that’s pretty close to the highest we’ve ever had.”
Although the unemployment rate is well known, Hagebusch said the number of homeless people is often overlooked.
“At our church that’s something we talk about a lot. We take it for granted that here in Pettis County everyone has a home, and that’s not the case.”
Roughly 100 volunteers — about 30 National Honor Society students and 70 others — cooked, served, boxed up and delivered meals, then cleaned up afterward. Some cooks arrived at 6 a.m., and deliveries were made well into the afternoon. Toward the end of the event, one student loaded up a van for her 26th delivery of the day.
Despite the hard work, many volunteers look forward to this event every year.
“We have students who graduated years ago who come back,” said Hagebusch, who is in her fourth year of helping with the event. “We have people coming from as far away as Florida, New York and St. Louis, and they come back and help every year at the Christmas dinner. So it’s kind of a generational thing here at Sacred Heart where they keep coming back. It gives them a service they can do and also be with their families at the same time.”
That’s not to say Hagebusch wouldn’t welcome more volunteers, especially with unemployment likely to still be high a year from now.
“Anyone that’s interested next year can call the school, and we can put them to work,” she said.