Volunteers reflect on successful Community Christmas Dinner

With Albemarle’s downtown streets mostly empty on Christmas morning, the first block of West South Street was a notable exception as a steady stream of vehicles navigated the circle drive at First Lutheran Church.

Along the drive, a team of volunteers from the church efficiently distributed bag lunches to those driving through as the annual Community Christmas Dinner took place for its 32nd consecutive year.

And, for the second year in a row, the threat of COVID-19 necessitated the event be conducted as a drive-through affair.

“We hope to go back to an in-house event next year,” said event chairman Harold Blalock, who noted that participation in the event decreased by about 300 between 2019 — the last year a dine-in option was offered — and 2020.

“In 2019, about 800 people were fed, with about a 400-400 split between dine-in and take-out. Last year, with take-out the only option, about 500 total meals were distributed,” he said.

Blalock was quick to recognize the two primary community partners making the event possible.

“Tiffany’s at the Boardroom prepared 558 meals this year, and the Albemarle Sweet Shop donated 102 pies,” he said.

First Lutheran Pastor James Laurence, right, hands a meal to Charlie Sturdivant. (Photos by TOBY THORPE)

Around 25 volunteers from First Lutheran Church were also instrumental in conducting the lunch, including Robert Efird, chairman of the church’s Lutheran Men, who explained how the event rotates between downtown churches.

“The event is held for two consecutive years at each church before rotating to the next one. This is our first year, so it will be back here in 2022,” said Efird.

The seven participating churches are First Lutheran, First Baptist, First Presbyterian, Central Methodist, Main Street Methodist, Christ Episcopal and Our Lady of the Annunciation Catholic Church.”

Efird and Blalock, each of whom estimated this as their “11th or 12th year” of volunteering, noted that should a dine-in event return next year, it will require a much larger volunteer staff.

“The last time it (a dine-in event) was done, it required 167 volunteers,” said Blalock. “If we bring that back next year, we will need each of the participating churches to help us in recruiting volunteers.”

In addition to the volunteers who distributed meals at the church portico, more than 150 meals were delivered to on-duty employees working Christmas day, as well as to a number of citizens who are homebound, or reside in assisted living facilities.

“One of our volunteers, Bob Sweet, delivered 84 meals to public safety employees,” Blalock said, “plus the Taylor House picked up 40 meals for their residents, and three couples who volunteer with the Senior Services home-delivered meals program are distributing a total of 39 meals to their clients.”

Jason Ritter, an organizational representative for Boy Scouts of America, also arranged for four Scouts to assist with traffic control in and around the church.

“Troop 82, which is based at First Lutheran, helps with this every year,” said Ritter.

Boy Scouts Ray Ritter, left, and Colin Flanagan assisted with traffic control at the drive-through dinner. (Photo by TOBY THORPE)

As the event continued, the smiles on the faces of both volunteers and participants testified to the spirit and efficiency of the operation.

“It’s going pretty smooth today,” observed Blalock, who also reflected on why he continues to volunteer each year.

“It just makes me thankful and appreciative of what the Lord has given us,” he said.