Volunteers Vern and Teresa Kuhlman finished their salads on Monday. “It’s wonderful to serve the community,” said Theresa Kuhlman. “And you get to know the people who come and you become a part of their lives.” (Mitch Hots — THE MACOMB DAILY)
From his corner of the fellowship hall in the basement of a more than 50-year-old church in northeast Macomb County, Price Drew Smith keeps his eyes on the sheet music in front of him as he plays Christmas carols on the piano.
Smith, the organist-pianist for First United Church of Christ on South Forest Avenue, picks up on snippets of conversation going on around him as dozens of people are served a free Christmas dinner Monday afternoon.
Some diners are members of the church, others belong to nearby Trinity Lutheran Church. Some simply have nowhere else to go for the holiday and end up here where they are welcomed, fed and often leave with a bag of leftovers and fresh fruit.
“I think it’s great for the community,” said Smith, a 55-year-old Port Huron resident. “It casts the good news and light of Christmas upon us all. Everyone is welcome and friendship, true camaraderie really brings people together.”
The annual meal was the brainchild of the late Glenn Porrett, who along with a group of volunteers organized the event for 29 years. Died in 2021.
“Glenn lives on through this wonderful food,” Smith said.
The Christmas dinner originated from a tradition that first began in Port Huron. In 1992, pastor at the United Church of Christ of St. John in Port Huron invited a First United pastor, an administrative assistant, and a volunteer to serve with him at the dinner in Port Huron. The Port Huron pastor then suggested that First United Church of Christ in Richmond also adopt the tradition, and church leaders in the Richmond area decided to hold the first Christmas dinner at First United in 1993.
It was created to give people who have nowhere else to go for Christmas or those who enjoy the company of others for the holiday. About 100 people were expected.
For three hours, volunteers served a dinner of ham, turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, salad, coleslaw, and butter rolls. There was also a table filled with a selection of desserts.
Organizers said the dinner crowd represented all ages, from young families to seniors and many who return to the church year after year.
Some lucky winners received handmade Christmas cards created by the little artists in Jennifer Dorsey’s first grade class at Will L. Lee Elementary School, part of the Richmond Community Schools.
Last year’s dinner took place during a snowstorm, which reduced the crowd from 120 guests to 80, which ultimately meant more carry-out for diners. The church also provides free food to police and fire officials who are on duty that day.
There was no sign of a blizzard or snow at all on Monday as temperatures hovered around 50 degrees.
That didn’t make Chef Dean Allor happy.
“Unfortunately, it’s sunny outside,” Allor, who spent the last few years in Georgia before returning to Michigan. “I miss all that white Christmas. I’ll probably turn into a snowbird in my old age.”
Back in the corner where the piano was still being played, Price Smith was asked how long he planned to play for the diners.
“I’ll play until everyone leaves, but if I play poorly, maybe everyone will leave early,” he joked.
Sponsors for the meal included Trinity Lutheran Church-Outreach Committee, Richmond Kroger, Achatz Pies, Giovanni’s, Ken’s Country Kitchen, Pankiewicz Cider Mill, Weeks Meat Market and Hamilton Bicycles.