By Anna Bennett
When we are caught up in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it can be easy to forget that not everyone has the resources to purchase gifts for multiple family members or to gather all the ingredients needed to prepare a hot, festive meal for the day. Such “givens” are so easily taken for granted. So it was heartening and enlightening to learn about and actually witness the “Westchester Christmas Dinner.”
This past Christmas day, as has been the tradition for 20 years, over 300 of our neighbors in need arrived via pre-arranged transportation to a welcoming St. Mary’s Parish in Katonah, to relax and enjoy a truly unique community-wide event. One of the event coordinators Licia Sandberg, said, “One of the main reasons I’m here is to teach my two sons what it means to give back.”
With team captains covering every aspect of the event from clothing and toy donations to volunteer coordination, this was a Christmas Dinner that had heart. Along with a delicious buffet meal, the venue was filled with entertainment, including DJ’s and various stations, like a “Rainbow Loom” activity for children, and a room filled with elves diligently wrapping gifts.
A colossal effort is needed to stage such an enormous production; the event requires hundreds of volunteers and hefty donations from both individuals and merchants. Perhaps one of the most charitable, intimate features of the dinner is that of gifting. Prior to the dinner, volunteer “elves” are designated a table, and take individual gift orders from the guests. After taking information about the guests’ needs, the elves proceed to a gift-wrapping room, where they select the best-fit presents. Adults are given assorted clothing items, and children are given both clothing and toys and other kinds of gifts. Thus, needy children can receive more than the bare minimum for survival, as would a more fortunate child.
The Blumenfeld family of Chappaqua was among the elves at work: “This is our sixth year volunteering,” said Susan Blumenfeld. “Ever since our first time, we decided that Christmas would be a day of giving back. It’s very rewarding.” Like the Blumenfelds, many families return year after year for that humbling and life affirming effect of giving back to those considerably less well off. As one might expect in its 20th year running, the event ran smoothly and radiant smiles were painted across the faces of hundreds of guests and volunteers alike.
According to multiple volunteers, Chappaqua’s Dawn Greenberg (owner of Aurora boutique) was to be commended for her valuable contributions and outstanding performance collecting food from an array of restaurants, not to mention her personal last-minute shopping for extra clothing. Stated Dawn: “Crabtree’s Kittle House and Quaker Hill always give tremendous amounts of stuffing and sweet potatoes. Le Jardin du Roi and Susan Lawrence were new this year and equally generous. Altogether, we had food contributions from 70 restaurants in northern Westchester. Many thanks to all the callers and drivers who joined us from Chappaqua this year. And to folks who donated gifts and dollars for new clothing.”
Hope Mazzola, the joyful, hard-working “head elf,” confirmed that following the completion of this year’s dinner, planning for the next dinner will soon be underway. If you would like to get involved (or even just donate), the event’s website, westchesterchristmas.org, describes the many opportunities available and provides all of the information you might need.
Anna Bennett, a long time contributor to Inside Chappaqua Magazine, is graduating in May from University of Massachusets in Amherst. She is also job hunting for a position maximizing her considerable writing, communications and social media skills. Write to her at email@example.com.