Early Tuesday morning the Christmas spirit was alive and well as volunteers gathered at Sacred Heart School cafeteria to prep for approximately 447 meal deliveries and 100 in-house meals for the 31st annual free Christmas Eve Dinner.
The meal is provided by the school and the National Honor Society students, and plus many volunteer parents, family, faculty, and community members.
Hollie Bogue and Jessica Webb, SHS teachers were new to this year’s dinner and were glad to have veteran dinner coordinator, Bonnie Diefendorf there overseeing the project.
“Jessica and I have coordinated the dinner, but Bonnie came to volunteer this year,” said Bogue. “We needed someone with experience.”
Diefendorf, who retired after 35 years as SHS teacher and grade school principal, has been a participant for 20 years and was in charge of the dinner for 14 years.
“My kids grew up helping with the Christmas Eve Dinner,” she said. “And when they were in college, and would come home, they would come down and help.”
Actual preparations for the meal began Monday afternoon.
“We arrived at noon and we left at 6 p.m.,” said Webb.
“We had five of us that came in and prepped,” added Bogue.
The group set up, and prepared the potatoes and dressing. On Tuesday volunteers began cooking at 6:30 a.m. for the dinner that ran from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Little Caesars Pizza donated the bread for the dinner, while Kehde’s Barbeque smoked the turkeys, sliced them and delivered them to the school.
Some of the funds were donated by the community the three women said. The students also had a dress-down-day at the school to help raise funds, raising a little over $500.
“The students can bring a dollar and they don’t have to wear their uniforms,” said Bogue.
“We had a very large turnout this year,” added Webb. “So plenty of them paid more than a dollar.”
“There’s a lot of the parishioners, and a lot of people in the community that have read about it and they will come in and give a 20 dollar bill or a check,” said Diefendorf.
The meal is a traditional holiday feast with all the trimmings; it is for anyone who needs it, the elderly, shut-ins, the unemployed. SHS doesn’t screen the calls added Bogue.
“If anyone calls and asks for a meal, they get it,” she said. “The meal is turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans and gravy and a roll and dessert—pumpkin pie,” said Bogue. Today’s the big day for the volunteers. We have shifts, two hour shifts.”
Approximately 60 people, counting students, helped cook, dip plates, box up meals and deliver food.
“You’d be surprised at, especially alumni that just show up,” said Diefendorf. “They’ll show up, and come back year after year. There’s some that have made it a family tradition, where the whole family, where the kids have been graduated out of high school for 15 to 20 years and they all come back to help.”
“The Snell’s are a young family and they are here with their daughter,” added Bogue.
Parishioners, Jessica and Brandon Snell and their 3-year-old-daughter Claire were volunteering for the first time.
“I went to school here in elementary school,” Jessica said. “This is the first year we’ve helped, we get so busy through the year, it’s just our way to give back to the community. We decided that there’s more important things in life.”
The family is hoping to make volunteering at the dinner a family tradition.
Misty Casdorph was volunteering for her first time also. Her son Devon Gross is a SHS junior and NHS member.
“I have three kids that go here, ” she said. “My daughter Brianna is helping too, and Tripp he’s in pre-school and she’s in fourth grade. So they’ll continue for years for come.”
The family’s holiday volunteerism began before they reached the school on Tuesday.
“A gentleman who works for Ditzfeld, his car was broke down,” she added. “I looked at my (temperature gauge) and it said 3-degrees, and he said his battery died, so we gave him a ride,”
“It always feels good to help,” Gross added about the SHS dinner. “I always help out somewhere around Christmas time.”
He planned to work all day Christmas Eve.
The Christmas Eve Dinner began three decades ago with a former SHS teacher, Charlie Landry.
“We had a teacher here in the high school that had a contemporary issues class,” said Diefendorf. “He wanted to help the students realized that the Sedalia community also had a great need. So it started with his class, it was the first one that served first Christmas Eve Dinner. And then later on the National Honor Society took it over and has been doing it now for many years.”
The group planned on delivering 120 meals to the Pettis County Jail, and taking the other meals to any one who called in needing a dinner.
“People from all over the city call in, so they have already established routes for the ones that come in to deliver them,” said Diefendorf.
Delivery takes around two hours Diefendorf and Bogue said, and each meal receives a handmade card.
“This is a school-wide effort,” Diefendorf added. “The Little kids make Christmas cards, so it’s not just the National Honor Society endeavor, it involves the whole school, beginning with the kindergartners. So every meal gets a card.”