Volunteers serve hundreds of Christmas meals at American Legion posts
Photo Gallery | Christmas dinner at North Adams American Legion
Photo Gallery | Christmas dinner at Pittsfield American Legion
NORTH ADAMS — While most kids are racing to their presents under the tree, 6-year-old Reagan Shea and her big sister, 10-year-old Hanna Shea, got up at 6:45 on Christmas morning to help prepare and serve more than 400 free Christmas dinners.
With the help of more than 30 other volunteers, the meals are offered at no charge to locals who might have spent Christmas Day alone, can't afford a holiday meal, or make a tradition out of dining with friends for the holiday.
The sisters are the latest in several generations of members of the American Legion Post 125 over the past 60 years who have volunteered to serve Christmas dinner to community members at no cost.
The Be Our Guest Christmas Dinner began in 1955 with about 24 diners, according to William Schrade Sr., the American Legion's finance officer, bar manager and 24-year coordinator of the dinner.
"We're doing it because it's fun, and because my poppa works here," Reagan Shea said.
Her poppa, Ryan Shea, of Adams, said he has been volunteering there for years, and figured it was time his daughters got into the habit of giving back to the community.
"We're trying to teach them to help out," he said.
The crew served more than 200 meals of ham, mashed potatoes, mixed vegetable with soup. They delivered 180 more to diners in North County. They handed out another 100 or so bag lunches of ham or salami sandwiches with an apple and three cookies.
Leftover ham, salami cheese and a few meals were delivered to homeless guests at Louison House in Adams, Schrade noted.
"The food is always excellent," said guest Patty Luczynski, who was having Christmas dinner with several of her neighbors. "And you couldn't ask for any better people — they work hard and give up their family time for us. And you run into people you don't get to see every day."
Dennis LaBonte has also been volunteering on Christmas for years. He said the food is donated by local businesses. Schrade said they prefer to remain anonymous, but LaBonte noted that the effort is bigger than the 30 volunteers who give up their holiday.
"I donate my time, but the community at large helps out too," he said. "We're lucky in North Adams to have some strong community support."
At the American Legion Post 68 in Pittsfield, another crew of volunteers showed up early Christmas morning for the dinner rush.
A team of about two dozen volunteers fed about 100 people who came out for a hot meal on Christmas. They also put out 100 cold meals for people to take with them and cooked up 146 hot meals to be delivered, according to longtime organizer Bernie LaFramboise.
"There's a lot of people that come here that don't have a family to go to," LaFramboise said.
LaFramboise — who has organized the dinner with his wife for more than 20 years — said the turnout on Friday was similar to years past.
Gloria Gennari has lost count of exactly how many times she's volunteered at the Legion on Christmas.
"It's a reward, it is," Gennari said of volunteering. "It's nothing for us to give up a Christmas to make a lot of other people happy."