For the past three years I have led the Christmas Eve dinner at my church. I am a member of a church in one of the poorer areas of Des Moines, where it astounded me to see young children walk in by themselves on Christmas Eve. Some of them had working parents who were not home to share a meal. Others are being raised by elderly grandparents on a fixed income who cannot afford to provide three meals a day. Serving meals to the neighborhood is nothing new to my church. They serve free breakfast and dinner six days a week, along with various other free services and programs.
The church is one of the few left in an area that used to have a church on nearly every corner. It serves a multilingual congregation that worships together every Sunday.
They are a community near and dear to my heart. They were the first place I volunteered when I moved to Des Moines. I woke up at 4:30AM to prepare and serve breakfast before work. I donated books and coats on various occasions, and helped interpret when they hosted events for their Spanish-speaking neighbors. They are like a second family to me. My pastor was at my house, praying with me less than two hours after Warren's death. As the day wore on, church members stopped by throughout the day, bringing breakfast, lunch and dinner as my house filled with family and friends who came to pay their respects. Today they remember him with me, and include his photo on the alter every year for the Day of the Dead service.
Aside from filling my soul through serving, organizing the Christmas Eve meal is a wonderful way to show my daughter that giving to others is the best gift we can give. She comes with me and spends nearly twelve hours alongside all the other volunteers making sure our dinner guests feel welcome, get enough to eat, and have a lovely evening. I have never had to force her to serve with me. Every year she has wanted to do it and looks forward to it enthusiastically. I am proud of her for having a kind heart that wants to share her time and talent. It reminds me how much of her dad lives on in her.
|2014 Christmas Eve Meal|
|Volunteers & donations make the Christmas Eve meal possible|
I look forward to organizing the Christmas Eve meal. I began the year after Warren died because I wanted a distraction from grieving his loss during the holidays. The first Christmas without him was tougher than I imagined. I couldn't believe that his smile wouldn't light up our house as we welcomed family for Thanksgiving, decorated the house for Christmas, and planned our date night for New Year's Eve. He loved family time so he was nearly always smiling from November through the new year. Without him I didn't feel like doing any of the holiday traditions we'd started. If it wasn't for my daughter, parents, siblings, niece and nephews, I wouldn't have participated in Thanksgiving dinner. Had it not been for my mother, Ariana wouldn't have had a Christmas tree or festive lights in the house. I don't have any recollection of what I did for New Year's that year, perhaps it involved sleep.
When the chance to plan the meal came up, I jumped at it. I wanted the holidays to mean something else. Making it about others seemed perfect. It would allow me to get active, plan something that did not revolve around family time that held a gaping hole of loss. Also, serving others is the best way I know that I can honor Warren's legacy. Plus, it was something that I could invite others to do with me if they chose, and spread the gift of giving among those I know and love.
|Families enjoy a free Christmas Eve meal|
|200+ 2014 Christmas Eve dinner guests enjoy a free meal|
As I head into my third year leading this effort, it is getting easier. I am working out the kinks of last minute plans falling through; better understanding what it takes to cook and serve 200+ people; managing volunteers so that two rounds of meals and clean up can happen in a condensed amount of time; and making a new tradition that I share with my daughter. Over the years, my parents, friends and siblings have joined in to help, and it's become a family affair. Their support is a reminder that I have wonderful examples of givers within my bloodline who are also living up to Warren's ideals. In this time of giving, I am grateful that I can give of my time, talents and resources in a way that is consistent with the precedents my parents have set, and those that Warren lived by. It is an honor I hope everyone can experience this season and beyond.
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