Christmas dinner in borough serves up holiday cheer

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Art Roppi of Naugatuck shares a laugh while talking with a family during the annual community Christmas dinner Sunday at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Naugatuck. More than 200 meals were served, and another 200 were delivered. RA ARCHIVE

NAUGATUCK — When Art Roppi moved to the borough by himself a few years ago, he went to the free Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church so he would not have to spend the holidays alone.

Now he is one of about 50 volunteers who make the huge Christmas dinner possible.

“It’s been a long morning, but it was fun,” Roppi said Sunday over a plate of turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing. “I said, ‘No, I can do more than come in for a free meal.'”

Organizers and diners alike say companionship is the point of the annual dinner, held Sunday and every Christmas Day since 1988.

Every year, about 200 people eat a traditional meal in the church hall, and meals are delivered to an equal number of people who have difficulty leaving the house.

Some diners bring home food for family members and neighbors who cannot come.

“It’s the friendship of being together,” said Mike Kelly, who organizes the event with his wife and daughters. “People have a good time. It’s like a party.”

Roppi said he served diners with coffee and tea, filled takeout orders and helped in the kitchen before sitting down to a meal himself. Volunteers set up the hall Saturday, while donors dropped off homemade cookies, cakes and pies.

Volunteers also helped prepare, serve and deliver hundreds of pounds of food, and began the monumental task of cleaning up Sunday after the meal ended.

As it is every year, the hall was decorated Sunday with linen tablecloths, silverware and china for the banquet. Typical holiday fare, including turkey, ham and pumpkin pie, was served. Christmas music played, and Santa Claus arrived after a long night with more presents for the children.

Santa, played by Robert Juilano of Naugatuck and Michele Hackett of Prospect, have been volunteering their time to hand out gifts to children for seven years during the annual Community Christmas Dinner Sunday at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Naugatuck. RA ARCHIVE

Erich Ritter, 68, of Jones Road, volunteered to deliver food while his wife Renate served. The couple has made the dinner part of their Christmas routine for five years, Ritter said.

For the Ritters, the dinner was a chance to sit and talk with others, including some from out of town.

“The kids are out of the house, and there’s nobody home on Christmas anymore,” Ritter said.

Longtime volunteer Dick Pierce, 71, of Birch Lane, says he sees many of the same faces each year. One thing was different this year, he said.

“The turkey is the best we’ve ever had,” he said.

This was the third year Regan Kelly, 23, and her sister, Morgan, served as lead organizers of the dinner. The job involves buying food weeks in advance, although the vegetables are always fresh, Regan Kelly said as she doled out portions right up until the dinner’s end.

Maria Ponce, 35, of Sunburst Road, brought her 10-year-old daughter, Kendra, to the dinner, which both said they enjoyed.

“The people were very friendly,” Ponce said. “The dinner was great.”