With a plate of food, Mary Hennessey sat down by her sister, Betty Jones, on Christmas day at the Civic to partake in the annual Neosho Community Christmas Dinner, sponsored by KNEO Radio.

“I am alone, my sister and I are both widows, our families, of course, have their own families. So every year, we get together and have Christmas dinner down here. We meet old friends and it is a good time to fellowship.”

The dinner was held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event was free and open to the public. The menu consisted of turkey, ham and chicken along with all the trimmings. Also, various salads, pies and cakes were served. Throughout the event, Christmas music was played by individuals or by CDs. Goody bags and some presents were given during the event.

This was Hennessey’s third time to the event.

“Before then, I celebrated with my daughter and her family,” she added.

Hennessey was looking forward to eating her meal, particularly one part of the meal: the dessert.

“I always look for the coconut cream pie,” said Hennessey. “I have (pointing at the pie) got my coconut cream pie. That is just my favorite cream pie. My grandmother use to make very good coconut cream pie. She made all of her’s from scratch, the crust, the filling and the meringue.”

Organizers stated that they served an estimated 475 meals — 325 at the Civic and 150 meals were delivered to homebound residents.

Hennessey said she encourages others to attend the community Christmas dinner.
“I made it be known that there is a community dinner, because there are a lot of people out there who are kind of lonely this time of year, who maybe estranged from their family or don’t have family in the area,” she said. “It kind of gives them an opportunity to get together with the crowd and kind of feel the spirit of Christmas, and a welcoming of the people around them.”

When asked what Christmas means to her, Hennessey said, “the birth of my Savior, Jesus Christ. I want to wish everybody a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and to remember the reason for the season.”

Another Neosho resident who attended the event was Roy Calkins.

“I have come to this just about every year that they have had it,” he said. “The food is fantastic, they always have good food.”

When asked what he would have done if the dinner was not available, Calkins said he would probably stay at home and watch TV.

“I think this dinner and everything does a lot of good for a lot of people,” he said. “Neosho has programs that really help the ones that are on the lower end of income. When I first came to Neosho, I really didn’t think that much of Neosho. But I have kind of changed my mind.”

He enjoyed the food that was prepared to him by the volunteers on Christmas. When asked what type of food he enjoyed, Calkins said, “Food is food, as long as it is good food,” he said. “I am a farm boy, I learned to eat a lot of different things. This today is just fantastic.”

Growing up, he remembers these types of dinner with his family.

“I lost all of my family, I don’t have any family, it is just me,” said Calkins. “Our family used to get together and we would have a meal like this. I miss it, which anybody would, it is good for me, it makes me feel good to be able to come, share with the people.”

Calkins said the dinner is also a great time to get together with friends he has met over the years.

“I have met two or three people here today that I have not seen in months, I use to work with some of them,” he said. “It is good to see them.”

Roberta Foster, event organizer, said that the organizers were thrilled with the turnout from the dinner.

“I feel like it was very successful from the fact that it accomplished what we were there to do,” Foster said. “It provided a place for people to be on Christmas day, they were enjoying themselves, it had the family atmosphere that we wanted so that people made friends and lingered with friends.”

Foster also thanked the 90 volunteers who volunteered their time at the event.

“I commend each and every one of them, they were all so helpful, such a sweet spirit, it was just a joyful time for people to come and be there,” she added.

Foster related one special story, which happened during the dinner.

“There is a husband and a wife that have been volunteering for our food preparation for years,” she said. “The wife recently passed away. And in some of her final comments to her family, she wanted them to continue the tradition of working at the community Christmas dinner, even to the point she was asking for her children and grandchildren to be a part of the activity, part of it making it possible for that day to happen. Her wishes were granted, her husband came down by himself to enjoy the Christmas day with many of the people that he was already acquainted with.”