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Richard’s Dinner will ensure everyone has Christmas meal

Friday, December 20, 2013

In 1985, Stuart Axelrod served a community Christmas meal to about 375 people. It was the beginning of a tradition that has become Richard’s Dinner.

This year, Scott Norman — who organizes the annual free meal along with Whitney Sarver Engstrom — expects more than four times as many people to take part.

This year’s dinner will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Christmas Day at First Baptist Church of Martinsville at the corner of Starling Avenue and Mulberry Road. It is called Richard’s Dinner after the late Richard Sarver, who volunteered with the event for many years. Engstrom is his daughter.

Norman, who is working on the event under the umbrella of Grace Network, said he looks forward to feeding upwards of 1,600 people this year. Most of the meals will be delivered, but a significant number will be served in the church fellowship hall, he said.

Anyone interested in having a meal delivered should call 403-9557.

The mission of the meal has not changed in the 28 years since Axelrod set out to prevent anyone in the community from missing a meal on Christmas. Norman, in the spirit of Axelrod and in memory of Sarver, continues to focus on the community aspect of Christmas.

“A lot of people have outlived their family and friends or can’t afford a plane ticket (to visit),” he said. But he emphasized that the dinner still “is a time of coming together.”

And it is a time for food. Norman described “a pile of turkey taller than I am” — 350 pounds’ worth, he said. The dinner also will include 380 pounds of ham, eight gallons of green beans, enough mashed potatoes to “fill a child’s swimming pool,” more than 10 gallons of gravy and enough cranberry sauce to “fill a double sink, twice.”

Although Norman said the group is on track to receive enough donations to cover this year’s meal, organizers accept donations year-round, and any excess donations will be applied to next year’s dinner. Donations to Richard’s Dinner can be made payable to Grace Network, marked Richard’s Dinner.

Those interested in volunteering for cooking duties may call 732-3422. Those who would like to supply desserts, which Norman said are “always needed, although we prefer they travel well,” may bring them to the back door of the church on Christmas Eve.

Anyone who would like to volunteer to set up, deliver or serve meals should “show up anytime from 9 a.m. until it’s all cleaned up around 5 p.m.,” Norman said. He added that volunteers are welcome to help for 15 minutes or all day.

The event usually draws around 250 volunteers to help with the setup, cooking, serving, delivery and cleanup, he said.

Sarver was one of those volunteers. Now, Engstrom and her husband, Jay Engstrom, work hand in hand with Norman on the event.

“This is not possible without them,” Norman said.

Still in the family business, the couple runs Quality Catering in the Gallery on Memorial Boulevard in Martinsville, as well as 37 East uptown.


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