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Hundreds celebrate Christmas at community dinner

 

December 26, 2019

Havre Daily News/Derek Hann

Hundreds of community members fill the Havre Eagles Club Wednesday to eat a turkey Christmas dinner together.

As hundreds of people from around the area came to the Havre Eagles Club Wednesday, the annual Community Christmas Dinner got underway, with volunteers serving people with a turkey dinner including all of the trimmings of a home-cooked meal.

"I think that's what Christmas is all about," said Clay Vincent, who was volunteering at the community dinner with his wife, Chris. "It's about sharing. It's not just gimme-gimme type stuff; it's doing stuff for other people and these people have done a lot for us in the past just in this city, so it's just nice to do that."

The Community Christmas Dinner offers a free Christmas dinner to everyone who wants to come, as well as delivering dinners to people who may not be able to travel to the Eagles Club. The dinner may be at the Eagles Club, but it is not an Eagles Club event. It is sponsored and put on by the community every year.

The dinner is a long-standing Havre tradition and has served many people and families from all walks of life throughout the years. It was started by Bob Sivertsen, who ran the dinner for 25 years before he passed it to Jerry Bergren and his family, who ran the dinner for another 10 years before turning it over to the Eagles Club. Tom Farnham, manager of the Havre Eagles Club, has been the chair of the event ever since.

Farnham said Wednesday that this year's event was going very well. He added that they were able to deliver more than 317 Christmas dinners to people around the community and were able to serve hundreds more at the Eagles Club. This year they had more than 50 volunteers helping at the event, a number of them first-year volunteers.

"Everyone is just so happy and cheerful because it's Christmas Day," Farnhan said.

He added that it is great to see everyone together having a good time at the event, and he is seeing a number of people he hadn't seen in the past year. He said the community really comes together because people in the community don't want to see others in the community go hungry, be shut in or spend Christmas alone.

Farnham said he wanted to thank everyone who has helped put together the event, adding that there are not enough hours in a day to put on a community event like the Community Christmas Dinner alone.

Vincent said he and his wife have volunteered for the Community Christmas Dinner for the past three to four years. He added that they also volunteer at the Community Thanksgiving Dinner every year, and believe both events are vital to the community. 

  "If you deliver meals and if you see the people that are here, there are a lot of people who have had a rough year," he said.

The community dinner welcomes everyone, from all walks of life, and is a great way for the community to come together, he said. His favorite part about volunteering for the event is to see all of the smiling faces who pass through the door.

"It really makes you think about the blessings over the years," he said.

Vincent added that he and his wife have been in Havre for the past 30 to 36 years and have gotten to know many people within the community. The Community Christmas Dinner is also important to the community because it gives people the chance to see people they have not seen all year or for multiple years.

"A lot of communities do this, but Havre has been able to sustain this for many years and obviously the people in the community appreciate it. I know they keep the donations up," he said. "You have to have that or the community's not going to make it."

He said one of the reasons he volunteers every year is because it is nice to be able to do something for the community. Many people don't have the means or ability to cook or attend a Christmas dinner, and the Community Christmas Dinner is a good way to give everyone a gift for the holidays.

Vincent added that he also noticed a number of younger volunteers this year.

Curtis Smeby and Darlene Sellers said this was their first year volunteering at the Community Christmas Dinner, and they were having a great time at the event.

Sellers said she and Smeby usually leave for the holidays because of requirements of their work schedules, but this year they stayed home. She added that they have volunteered for a number of different things over the years but never the Community Christmas Dinner.

She said one of the reasons they wanted to volunteer was because they believe volunteering is a great use of people's time during the holidays.

"Then you come down and you meet old friends and new friends," she said.

Smeby said volunteering is a fun way to give back to the community.

"It's an opportunity to do something that's constructive and helpful," he said.

Smeby and Seller said, as volunteers, they filled more than 300 to-go boxes and were put on pie duty, cutting up and distributing the pies.

Sellers said volunteering is about giving back, but it also has something to give. She said seeing people enjoying themselves at the event and knowing they are helping the community is something that is great about volunteering. It's about new experiences.

It is the time of year to be thankful for how blessed people are and to take the time and count their blessings, she said. She added that Havre is a big community and it is great to see people come together and be surrounded by love, hugs and smiles. 

"It's a pause," Sellers said, adding that Christmas is a time to stop, take a pause, and tell people they love one another and it only comes a couple of times a year.

Smeby said not everyone in the community has a family, or has a place to go or people to see for the holidays. Having people in the community, friends and family, and having a chance to catch up makes a big difference to people, he added.

"It's the people," he said. "It makes a big difference."

In addition to individuals volunteering for the event community organizations, such as the Havre Jaycees and the Montana Hammer Motorcycle Club also pitched in to help with the Community Christmas Dinner this year.

Montana Hammer Treasurer Dave Zawacki said the Montana Hammer's volunteer every year for the Community Christmas Dinner because it is important for the community and important that, as a motorcycle club, they help as many people as they can.

"Because there are people who are a lot less privileged who just need help," he said.

Shirley and Jim Tautges said they have been attending the Community Christmas Dinner for about 20 years. 

Shirley Tautges said they come every year because they enjoy seeing people, some of the people they see they only see once or twice a year, and it is nice to catch up with old friends and meet new friends. She added that they really feel a fellowship at the dinner and have a nice time during the event.

She said everyone at the dinner feels like extended family and she and her husband enjoy spending time with people, joking around and talking.

"It's exciting," she said.

Jim Tautges said many people are not going to cook a whole turkey dinner for themselves if it is only them and one or two other people because it is a lot of work and time to prepare everything. He added that many of the older people in the community also cannot cook and cannot do a lot of work or get out for the holidays, so it is nice the community has something for everyone.

"It's a good way to get together," he said. "It wasn't too many years ago that if you were alone on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day you were alone."

He added that most places are also closed during Christmas and people don't have many options if they want to get out of the house.

He said all of the volunteers at the Community Christmas Dinner do a great job in preparing the meals and he appreciates all the work they put into the event.

"It's a good celebration for people," he said. "It's a good way for them to get together, some of them, it just makes their day. They got nothing better going on; somebody cares. I have to hand it to the volunteers and everything."

Rick Stevens, his wife, Mary, and brother Harold Stevens were also at the event. 

Rick Stevens said they have not come to the Community Christmas Dinner for a number of years but it was nice to be back.

Mary Stevens said they used to come to the dinner when her mother was still alive and living at the care center, but after her mother died they stopped going, until Harold Stevens needed to go to the care center.

She said he needs easy access, but their home is difficult for him to get into, so it is nice the community has somewhere they can all go without too much trouble.

"It's nice to have a place to take him for dinner," she said.

She added that she is also amazed to see a lot of the same volunteers from the Community Thanksgiving Dinner volunteering for the Christmas dinner, as well. 

"They're good people, puts out an example for all of us, I think," she said.

Rick Stevens said he greatly appreciates all of the donors for the events and the incredible job everyone involved does to put on the event every year. 

"Without them this wouldn't be here," he said.

He added that it is a very important event, especially for those who have difficulty getting out and moving around. Having somewhere that is easy for everyone to access is great.

Havre Daily News/Derek Hann

Volunteers serve up plates of community members at the Community Christmas Dinner Wednesday at the Havre Eagles Club.

"Even if you have a loving family, if that family's home is not accessible you can't have a Christmas dinner together," he said. "So this is a way you can have a Christmas dinner together, which I think is nice. It's a very big gift to the community, it's something to be proud of."

Earl Johnston, who was in a wheelchair, and his daughter Christina Merling were also at the event.

Merling said Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ with friends and family. The Community Christmas dinner is great because people are able to come together and visit. Havre is a small community and having a community event like the dinner means the world to so many people. 

Johnston said he was having a beautiful time at the event and was enjoying everything.

"I think the best thing about this day, I see friends that I haven't seen in a long time. To me it's a blessing to come in and visit," he said. "I think the blessings of God is with us."

 

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