Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

December 24, 2012

Christmas dinner tradition lives on

Bill Grimes
Effingham Daily News

EFFINGHAM — Nobody really remembers when grocer Clyde Martin started the annual community Christmas dinner, but it’s been long enough that it can safely be called a local holiday tradition.

    Anybody faced with spending Christmas Day by themselves is invited to come over to the Sacred Heart Catholic Church Parish Center for a midday Christmas feast.

    Volunteers are encouraged to report to the church at 10:30 a.m. Christmas morning. Serving will begin at 11:30 a.m.

    Effingham resident Ken Cleeton will again begin cooking at 5 a.m. Christmas morning.

    While the first mention of the dinner in the Effingham Daily News was in 1972, Clyde Martin’s son, Newlin, owner of Martins IGA Plus, said his dad started the dinner sometime in the mid 1960s.

    The Effingham Ministerial Association has been involved in the dinner for at least the last 25 years. At one time, different churches rotated hosting the event. But given its location and handicap accessibility, Sacred Heart has been hosting the dinner for the past several years.

    Longtime volunteer Carol Toney said she started working at the dinner when her children — now in their 30s — were small.

    “It’s part of our family tradition,” Toney said. “I grew up in a family of 15 kids and Mom always had room for one more.”

    There’s plenty for volunteers to do. In addition to serving, there’s need for people to pick up guests who can’t drive and deliver meals to the homebound.

    But Toney said there’s an even more intangible task for the willing volunteer.

    “The problem I run into is that everybody wants to serve,” she said. “Well, I only have six ladles.

    “But what I really need people to do is come in and talk to the people who come in to enjoy the meal,” Toney added. “They are there, usually, because they don’t have anywhere else to go and a person could really brighten someone’s day by talking to them.”

    Martins IGA Plus provides poinsettias for table decoration — and to send home with some lucky diners. The ladies from Beta Rho sorority provide treats for each diner. Diabetic treats are available, Toney said.

    Volunteers and diners join together for a round of Christmas carols and sometimes Santa himself even comes around.