NORTH ADAMS — Sixty years since the inception of its Be Our Guest Christmas Dinner, the American Legion is still cooking, serving and delivering free Christmas dinners to anyone who can call in or make it through the door.
The event began in 1955, according to William Schrade Sr., the American Legion's finance officer, bar manager and 24-year coordinator of the dinner.
In its first go, just 24 diners were served.
"They wanted to help people out in the city of North Adams at Christmas," Schrade said.
This year, more than 200 dinners will be delivered and another 100 or so will be served in-house at the Legion. On Tuesday afternoon, the Legion had 125 reservations.
"The phone hasn't stopped ringing," he said.
The dinner is funded through anonymous donors.
The volunteers begin arriving at 4 a.m. on Christmas Day. Eight will work in the kitchen and 15 will be in the dining room. Ten more will drive meals to homes. Deliveries begin at 10:30 a.m., and the in-house dinners are served from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m.
"It's really nice when they come here," Schrade said. "It's kind of a family thing. They can gather with other people so they don't have to be alone on Christmas. But some people just can't get out of the house."
The Readsboro (Vt.) American Legion typically picks up 35 to 45 meals to deliver to residents there, he noted.
The menu includes ham, mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables, a roll and turkey soup. In-house diners, after eating, will leave with a bag lunch of a ham or salami sandwich, an apple and three cookies.
In the early 2000s, the American Legion Christmas dinner served a high of 550 meals. In the late 1990s, Schrade recalls, a major snowstorm threatened to derail the dinner deliveries, so he went on the radio and appealed for volunteers with four-wheelers to deliver the meals. Shortly thereafter, he looked outside and saw 15 trucks lined up and ready to go.
"That one really got me," he said. "It was amazing."
For reservations in North Adams, call 413-664-9004. The Legion is located at 91 American Legion Drive.
The American Legion Post 68 on Wendell Avenue in Pittsfield will also host a free Christmas dinner at noon on Christmas. Volunteers are needed to serve meals and deliver meals to shut-ins and donations are also requested. Those interested in volunteering or making a donation can call 413-499-1435. Anyone needing a meal delivered in the Pittsfield area should call 413-499-1435 or 413-443-9853.