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Ho-ho-hold the gravy

A Havre tradition returns for Christmas

 

December 26, 2018

Havre Daily News/Ryan Berry

Jerry Liese laughs and thanks volunteers after getting his Christmas dinner Tuesday in Havre. Liese has been attending the Christmas dinner for about 17 years.

"My first year doing this, I saw a guy that was almost a millionaire sitting with somebody off the street and they were laughing and eating together," Havre Eagles Club Manager Tom Farnham said Tuesday. "And that's what it's about. That really only happens on Christmas."

For five years now, Farnham has led serving the Community Christmas Dinner, which has served hundreds of meals to the Havre community every year since Bob Sivertsen started the tradition more over 40 years ago.

What Farnham said he saw his first year running the show held true Tuesday as well. Families packed some tables shoulder to shoulder, and other tables hosted complete strangers, their introductions barely audible over the chatter of the packed dining room.

"Hearing people's joy in here is really exciting," Mavis Farnham, Tom Farnham's sister-in-law, said. "The seats have been full in here all day, which is just great."

For Mavis Farnham and her family, this Christmas dinner is special, she said, but not just because a large part of the family volunteers every year. Two years ago, before Mavis was a Farnham, she hit it off with Robert Farnham, Tom's brother, while the two were volunteering for the event.

"We were definitely slacking on our work that year," Mavis said, laughing. "Too busy flirting."

By the time last year's Christmas dinner came around, the two were married.

In total, 40 volunteers came together this year to run the community dinner, helping with cooking, serving, washing dishes and tending to the dining room. Most of the volunteers had prior experience working the event, including Mike Cuneo, who spent the first half of his Christmas back in the Eagles Club kitchen.

"I love it. This is my fourth time doing this event, and I've only lived here for three years," he said. "Some people ask me how that's even possible."

As it turns out, Cuneo arrived in Havre in November 2015 and began volunteering at community dinners almost immediately. He got his start at the St. Jude Thaddeus Church with the Community Thanksgiving Dinner a few weeks after arriving in Havre, and he has been working similar events ever since.

In total, about 720 Christmas meals were served this year, including 310 that were delivered to those unable to get to the Eagles Club. All 360 pounds of turkey that had been prepared was gone by 1:20 p.m.

At 720 meals, this year's dinner falls short of the 803 served last year, but Tom Farnham attributes that to the better weather this Christmas.

Havre Daily News/Ryan Berry

Jeanette Hamaoka serves mashed potatoes to a young girl Tuesday at the Eagles Club in Havre. Turkey, potatoes, corn, stuffing and much more was served at the event.

"This year went well," he said, "but we were down by about 80 meals. A lot of people were shut in last year," meaning they could not leave town and went to the Eagles Club as a backup plan, he said.

In spite of the lower turnout, Farnham said he deemed the event a success.

Volunteer Ursula Brese said she attributed the continued success of the dinner to the good nature of the Havre community.

"It was excellent this year. It always is," she said. "This is really just such a giving community. It's unbelievable the support we get."

The annual Christmas dinner is buoyed by the massive amount of support the community has to offer. Running entirely off of donations from community members and local businesses, this dinner - which is now older than many of the people who attend it - has become a cornerstone tradition of Christmas in Havre.

 

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