NORMAN — Weather didn’t stop some residents from attending
Christmas Day 2012 was full of the season’s traditional earmarks in Norman — the hush of a city on holiday, bitter, cold winds with ice and a dusting of snow, and the culmination of months of planning and years of generosity: The Norman Free Christmas Day Community Dinner.
“I wasn’t too worried about the weather,” said Bob Magarian, dinner coordinator and host. “You have to expect the numbers to go down a little, but if we only served five people today, we’d be here.”
Tuesday marked the dinner’s 26th anniversary, continuing a rain-or-shine event whose inaugural dinner in 1987 was marked by the worst ice storm Norman had seen at the time.
“We served 20 people and had 24 volunteers that year,” Magarian said.
Though the dinner has expanded to roughly 10 times its initial size, the dinner’s first crowd, however small, left a major impression on Magarian and his fellow volunteers.
“A man who attended the first dinner with his wife and two children told me this dinner was going to be their Christmas, since he’d lost his job a week before and the family had no money,” Magarian said. “People there that first year asked me, ‘Are you going to do this again?’ and I said, ‘I’m not going to do this again, we are.’”
Longtime volunteer Dorothy Kitchens had a similar experience at her first community dinner in 1988.
“The first year I volunteered, I saw a lot of guests at the dinner who were in great need, and the years following, we advertised and opened it up to the community because no one should be by themselves on Christmas,” Kitchens said.
Since then, Kitchens has made volunteering a part of every Christmas, saying that though the work is tiring, it’s a “good tired.”
Planning begins in July and donations pour in from a plethora of local businesses, from La Baguette bakery to Sooner Mall.
Though the dinner is intended for community members of all walks of life, the goal of meeting needs and reaching out has inspired the addition of a free toy and gift distribution to the traditional meal.
“We have gifts for guests of all ages. We had a wonderful candy donation this year, and the scarves in the gift bags for adults were hand-made by the children at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church,” said Gail Wilcox, toy and gift volunteer coordinator. “Sooner Mall’s donation of bags for the adult gift bags was a huge help this year.”
Wilcox also expressed great appreciation for the presence of Norman Police Department officers, saying they helped keep the entire event calm and gave her a sense of security.
“All guests are welcome to take two toys each, and some years we’ve been able to give specific aid to families who suffered major setbacks, like losing their home to fire,” Wilcox said.
The joint effort and networking doesn’t stop when the dinner is over. Any extra food and toys get redistributed to area charities.
“We started this 26 years ago because there was a need — no one was serving a free Christmas dinner in Norman, and we wanted to do something for the community. Our feeling is we’re doing God’s will,” Magarian said.
Those interested in contributing volunteer work or donations to next year’s community dinner may call Bob Magarian at 364-3273.