Nearly 400 holiday meals served in Aztec during annual Community Christmas Dinner
Holiday meal was offered on drive-thru or delivery basis only again this year
AZTEC — Diners in cars began lining up in the drive-thru lane even before the scheduled 11 a.m. start time for the Christmas Community Dinner on Dec. 25 at the Aztec Senior-Community Center, and by the time the annual event came to an end two hours later, nearly 400 meals had been served.
Even behind the facemask she was wearing in the kitchen of center as she helped prepare meals, Connie Hutcheson — one of the two organizers of the event, along with Susan Rarick — plainly was sporting a broad smile of satisfaction as the event neared its conclusion in the early afternoon. The center had been a beehive of activity since 5 a.m. that day, with approximately 155 meals being delivered to folks and close to 250 more being handed out to people in person via the drive-thru lane.
"These are a great bunch of people," she said, referring to the 15 volunteers who helped her and Rarick get the job done this year. "And I think it's increasing every year. We got some new faces this year. We're grateful. We really are."
One of those new faces was Sapphire Sunhort, who was stationed at the window of a wooden shack overlooking the parking lot on the south side of the building. Sunhort was handing out the packaged meals to drivers who waited patiently in the drive-thru lane, a line that extended seven or eight cars deep for most of the event.
Sunhort said it was her first year to volunteer for the dinner, although she has volunteered for other organizations before and enjoyed the experience.
"I thought, 'What a good way to give back,'" she said.
Sunhort was being assisted by Charlene Walgren, another first-time volunteer who was using a handcart to ferry meals from the kitchen to the shack. She said she had been recruited by a coworker at her job to volunteer for the event.
"The look of happiness on her face when I said I would do this was fantastic," Walgren said. "And, yes, I will be back (next year)."
Just inside the senior-community center, Cheyenne Justice watched as Darbee Iverson painted a Christmas scene on the inside of a large window overlooking the parking lot. The two had spent the morning delivering meals and working in the kitchen.
And volunteers James Royer and Lynette Justice were still at it in the kitchen, dishing up holiday meals in Styrofoam containers. Royer said he was happy to be doing something positive, noting that there are many people, including public safety personnel and electric utility workers, who aren't fortunate enough to be able to enjoy the holiday without working.
Hutcheson said preparations for the dinner included 29 hams, 13 turkeys, four cases of sweet potatoes, 10 boxes of mashed potatoes, 12 bags of stuffing, several gallons of gravy and 20 1-gallon cans of green beans. More than two dozen of the hams were donated by the Farmers Market grocery store in Flora Vista, she said.
"I think we're coming close to using all of it," Hutcheson said.
Hutcheson and Rarick took over organizing the event after Rarick's sister started it more than 15 years ago. This was the second year in a row they have had to run it on a drive-thru and delivery basis instead of a sit-down meal because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hutcheson said she looks forward to a time when the community meal can return to its traditional format.
"I wish we could have all the community here," she said. "Hopefully, next year. … We're looking forward to that."
Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.