Volunteers offer Christmas meals

While stockings were hung by the chimney with care on Tuesday, many Sonomans were preparing food with care in readiness for charitable activities Christmas Day.

The largest single such event may be the Christmas dinner at Vintage House senior center, where nearly 250 meals were prepared: 170 to be served in-house, including 40 for the volunteers on hand, plus another 75 or so to be delivered to people’s homes.

“The volunteer chefs are there preparing the turkeys for tomorrow,” said Marissa Fitrakis, Vintage House’s program and volunteer coordinator, on Tuesday morning. The work included stuffing and marinating the birds, chopping onions, celery and string beans, and “washing everything to prepare for tomorrow.”

Volunteers also were setting the dining room for 170 Christmas Day celebrants, and lining boxes with foil for the takeout meals, to be picked up and delivered by Kiwanis Club members in the early afternoon Wednesday.

Though they planned to send out 75 meals, “It’s not 75 different houses necessarily, it could be two or three (meals) to a house,” Fitrakis noted.

She added that even though Vintage House requests RSVPs, volunteers won’t turn anyone away on Christmas Day. Doors opened at 3 p.m.

“There’s not a charge for the meals,” Fitrakis said, “but we do take donations.”

Elsewhere in Sonoma, Christmas elves were similarly busy. At Trinity Episcopal Church, Meals on Wheels volunteers made arrangements for several meals to be sent out Christmas morning to the region’s less fortunate.

“Meals on Wheels serves Monday through Friday all year long,” said Mary Evelyn Arnold. “So we make no exceptions for Christmas or Thanksgiving, we serve all of those meals.”

Still, an exception was made for the Christmas Day delivery in that its contents were “extra fabulous,” as Arnold put it, with filet mignon, shrimp cocktail, wine and a “special breakfast bag.” (For a complete list of the offerings, see Kathleen Hill’s column on page B1.) Even a gift, in the form of a donated book, was included in the package.

On a normal day, Arnold said, Meals on Wheels serves about 60 people – but many clients were with family on Christmas, so the tally was down to three-dozen.

Of course, people need help for the entire season, not just Christmas Day, and the charitable group Brown Baggers has been working diligently to deliver that help.

“Brown Baggers was part of the Adopt a Family (event), and we put on a dinner for under-housed, underprivileged people” the previous week, said volunteer Jude Sales.

“It was wonderful, it always is,” she added. “Everyone was well fed and had a wonderful time.”

As for this week, the volunteers took Christmas off but planned to open their regular soup kitchen on Friday at the La Luz facility from 4 to 6 p.m. That’s just one of several venues the Brown Bagger volunteers use – they also serve food at the Grange on Wednesdays and at St. Leo’s Catholic Church on Mondays and Thursdays. (A representative of La Luz said the facility, located at 17560 Greger St., will be otherwise closed until Jan. 2.)

Some of Sonoma’s neediest residents were at Sonoma Overnight Support homeless shelter on Christmas Day, enjoying a good meal thanks to an unknown benefactor.

“We had an anonymous donor donate a turkey dinner from Whole Foods,” said shelter case manager Susana Romo on Tuesday. “Actually, that was dropped off seconds ago.”

Romo said her facility would be in full swing Christmas Day, adding that “It’ll be nice and quiet and hopefully uneventful.”

She said the shelter, which is mostly advertised by word of mouth, is close to becoming overfull. Currently she has 13 residents there, but “our day users are also invited to dinner” on Christmas.

“Little by little, we’re getting bigger and bigger, but I still only have one shower, I only have one washer and dryer,” she said.

Hopefully, the shelter and other charitable groups and facilities will continue to get the help they need thanks to philanthropic locals.

“The holiday dinners are definitely a big deal. And it takes a lot of volunteers,” noted Fitrakis. And yet, she said, the Vintage House had to turn away volunteers.

“This community is really generous,” she said. “We’re very grateful.”