WARSAW — Spend much time in the Knights of Columbus hall in Warsaw on Christmas Day and you are likely to hear one line repeated over and over again.
“I haven’t seen you in ages.”
That is kind of what the annual Knights community Christmas meal is all about according to Jim and JoAnn Thompson, of Warsaw.
“This is just a day to be together and see old friends,” JoAnn said as a steady flow of their friends and neighbors stopped by to say hello and offer a “Merry Christmas.”
The couple dined on smoked turkey, mashed potatoes and a host of other holiday meal treats on Tuesday during the annual community event, which organizers say fed about 300 people by early Tuesday afternoon.
Jim, a retired Kansas City fireman, and JoAnn, a retired food service worker with the North Kansas City School District, have volunteered at the event before, but this year, Jim said, “we are just sitting here and enjoying it.”
The Knights make the meal open to anyone, for any reason. Of the 300 that turned out on Tuesday, some were needy individuals or families looking for a hot meal. Others were retired snowbirds like the Thompsons, who celebrated Christmas with their families last week.
“That works out fine,” Jim said. “That means today we can enjoy being with our friends. We have good food and good friends. Mostly it’s really about the people.”
JoAnn bragged about her adoptive hometown, saying the community spirit exhibited in the hall on Tuesday is “just how people are here.”
“The thing about Warsaw is, no matter who you are, when someone in this community needs something, everyone steps up to help out,” JoAnn said. “I think it is great that they get behind this meal and keep it going year to year.”
The origins of the meal seem a little foggy, possibly arising in the 1980s as a Veterans of Foreign Wars or American Legion event. The Knights took over hosting the meal in the mid-1990s, and have seen the crowd grow steadily from around 50 to the 300 or so that have shown up in recent years.
Even if the history is vague, the duty of carrying on the tradition is an important one, according to Richard Harms, the hall’s Grand Knight.
“It costs a lot of money to have a big Christmas dinner and some families just don’t have it,” Harms said. “And, we have a lot of retired people whose families aren’t here for Christmas or people that just don’t have anywhere to go that don’t want to be home alone. It’s something that really helps people out.”
That sentiment was echoed by members Howard Sullentrop and Mike Shortino, who are part of the cadre of Knights, and their wives, who show up at the hall every Christmas at 8 a.m. to carve turkeys, mash potatoes and prepare an impressive table full of homemade desserts.
“We enjoy doing it,” Sullentrop said.
“There’s not really any place we would rather be on Christmas morning,” Shortino added. “And it is always greatly appreciated.”