A Christmas meal fit for a kingdom

Mike Kelly is helping to organize a free Christmas dinner hosted by the Ecumenical Conference of Churches of Naugatuck and Beacon Falls. This year, Kelly and the other volunteers are preparing 513 pounds of turkey to go along with ham and plenty of sides for the meal.

NAUGATUCK — No one in Naugatuck need be without a warm meal and company on Christmas day, thanks to the dinner the Ecumenical Conference of Churches of Naugatuck and Beacon Falls hosts each year.

On the morning of Dec. 25, holiday cheer will fill Saint Michael’s Church on the Town Green in Naugatuck as diners tuck in to a sumptuous meal.

“It’s a real fun time for the people to come and eat and it’s a fun time for the people that are there serving,” said Mike Kelly, who has helped organize the event for many years.

For over 20 years, those who either can’t afford or are unable to cook a holiday meal for themselves have joined others simply looking for a few hundred people to share their Christmas spirit.

“Everybody’s welcome,” Kelly said. “It’s not a soup kitchen by any means.”

Many of the dinner’s patrons are older couples who don’t have family in the area, and people who don’t want to spend the holiday alone, according to Kelly.

By all accounts, the meal, which volunteers will deliver to about 200 people who can’t make it to the church in addition to the 200 expected at the church, is quite a production.

This year, the event organizers are making 513 pounds of turkey and 10 to12 spiral hams, Kelly said. About 200 pounds of potatoes, 100 pounds of carrots, 100 pounds of turnips, will swim in lots of freshly-made gravy.

The whole meal is home-made and the hall is festively decorated like a restaurant.

“It’s not what you might expect. There’s white linen table cloths,” Kelly said. “Christmas only comes once a year and the committee felt that it should be done as nice as possible.”

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

“John and Maureen Ford deserve a lot of credit for starting this,” Kelly said.

Current organizers, sisters Morgan and Regan Kelly, started volunteering the same way. When they were 8, their father, Mike, encouraged them to help out cooking and cleaning. Fourteen years later, they’re running the event. And they’re not alone.

Many people have been volunteering for two decades, Mike said. And adults and children still team up in the food serving line.

Dinner organizers are looking for volunteers to help clean and chop vegetables, decorate the hall, and set up tables and chairs starting at 9 a.m. Dec. 24. Organizers are asking volunteers to bring their own knives and peelers to help chop vegetables and carve the turkeys and hams. They also need volunteers Dec. 25 to serve, deliver, and clean up after the meal. Servers should be at the church at 10:30 a.m. to start preparing for the noontime meal. Volunteers to drive the meals should arrive at 11 a.m. And most importantly, according to Kelly, a dedicated cleanup crew is needed at 1:45 p.m. The organizers appreciate donations of desserts such as cakes, cookies, and pies, but cannot accept cream desserts as they have no refrigerator to keep them.

Diners will be delivered to anyone in Naugatuck, Beacon Falls, and Prospect. Anyone who wants a dinner delivered should call Mike Kelly at (203)-723-1640.