If it wasn’t for the Cortez Community Christmas Dinner, Cassin McClure said she would probably heat up a Marie Callender’s frozen meal. Lee Wiesemann said he would probably be at home trying to find something good on TV.
Instead, the two Cortez residents sat down for dinner together.
“When you’re here by yourself and don’t have any family, you come here, and you really get a Christmas feel, and these people feeding us and serving us just warms my heart up so much,” Wiesemann said.
The community dinner is a decade-old tradition for some and a way for new residents to get to know neighbors. McClure said she’s attended the dinner for about 10 years.
Back in the kitchen, Terry McNamee has volunteered on Christmas morning for a dozen years or more, helping to debone 30 precooked turkeys. Greg Kemp has been at it for 16 years.
But it was the first Christmas in Cortez for at least two volunteers this year.
Delphine Crutcher said she moved to Cortez seven months ago and thought volunteering would be a great way to serve. She poured gravy onto platefuls of turkey, green beans, mashed potatoes and stuffing before passing the meals onto volunteer waiters like Eddie D’Elia.
It’s D’Elia’s first year in Cortez and, like Crutcher, he said he viewed the community dinner as a way to help out and meet new people. He said the tradition shows that people in Cortez really care about their town.
“I just moved here, and I thought it would be a good way to get initiated into the town by helping people,” D’Elia said.
Everyone has a different reason for coming. Father and son Dave and Matt Scott, both Marine Corps veterans, live down the street but said this is the first year they attended the dinner at the Montezuma Count Annex building on North Chestnut Street.
“Grandkids are all gone,” Dave Scott said.
Some volunteers find themselves in a similar position as McClure and Wiesemann – alone on Christmas.
“I’m a single person, and I’m not doing anything on Christmas morning,” Kemp, who supervised the home delivery service this year, said. “Most people have families and stuff like that so I just figured, well, I’d come here and take care of this.”
So, he spends his day making sure that no one goes hungry on Christmas. He said home delivery is particularly popular on white Christmases, but the always get to people who aren’t able to leave home. Sometimes they get delivery requests from hotel guests visiting from out of town.
Kitchen coordinator Sharon King said they had enough food for 350 people this year. By the end of service, about 275 people dined and 17 meals were delivered to homes with the help of 40 volunteers. King said one of her favorite parts of the dinner is when volunteers bring their children to come help out.
“Things are hard in the world at the moment, and I think a lot of people realize how fortunate they are and they look at this as an opportunity to be of service, that’s what I do,” King said.