A Christmas dinner for all

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Art Roppi, of Naugatuck, shares a laugh while talking with a family during the annual Community Christmas Dinner last Christmas at St. Michael's Episcopal Church in Naugatuck. This year’s dinner will be held Tuesday from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. at the church. –RA ARCHIVE

NAUGATUCK — For the past 20-something years, the Ecumenical Conference of Churches of Naugatuck and Beacon Falls has hosted a Christmas day dinner for the community. This Christmas, the tradition continues.

On Tuesday, holiday cheer will fill Saint Michael’s Church on the Town Green in Naugatuck as diners dig into a sumptuous Christmas meal featuring turkey and ham in a festive atmosphere.

“It’s a community event that brings people together on the most important day of the year,” said Mike Kelly, who organizes the dinner.

The dinner runs from 12 to 2 p.m. Anyone and everyone who wants to come down and share a holiday meal with others is welcome to attend. Along with the meal and company, the dinner will feature an appearance from Santa Claus, who will bring gifts for all the boys and girls, at 1 p.m.

“Come down and join us and have a good time. Spend Christmas day with some real nice people,” Kelly said.

The dinner takes an army of volunteers to put on. Between 60 and 70 volunteers will be at the church Christmas Eve peeling hundreds of pounds of potatoes, turnips, and carrots for the fresh, homemade meal.

Kelly anticipates more than 200 people will attend the dinner and another 200 or so dinners will be delivered to homebound people in Naugatuck and Beacon Falls.

Volunteers are needed from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Christmas Eve to not only peel, clean, and chop vegetables but to help decorate and set up the hall for the dinner.

On Christmas volunteers are needed to deliver meals at around 10:30 a.m., serve the dinner, and clean up afterwards to about 3 p.m.

Kelly said donations of baked desserts are also needed. Donations can be dropped off at the church on Christmas Eve from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Kelly said no cream-based desserts can be accepted because volunteers may not have the room to store them over night.

The dinner was started by John and Maureen Ford to teach their two children to appreciate the altruism of the holiday rather than the commercialism.

Kelly has been helping out with the dinner for the past 16 or 17 years. He got involved for the same reason the Fords started the dinner, to teach his two daughters, Morgan and Reagan Kelly, the true meaning of Christmas.

“I felt the same way John and Maureen felt. It was good for them (Morgan and Reagan Kelly) to see the true meaning of Christmas rather than the commercialization of Christmas and we all have fun,” Kelly said.

Now, that Kelly’s daughters are grown, they have taken on the roles of chairpersons for the Christmas dinner committee.

The dinner is free. Anyone who wants to donate can send donations to Christmas Day Dinner, C/O Naugatuck Valley Savings and Loan, Attn. Judy Giusto, Manager, 333 Church St., Naugatuck, CT 06770.

For more information, to volunteer, or to sign up to receive a meal delivered, contact Mike Kelly at (203) 723-1640 or (203) 729-2000.