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AZTEC – A sign in the kitchen at the Aztec Senior-Community Center conveyed a simple message to the volunteers who served a Christmas meal to the men, women and children coming in from the cold: "Smile."

The volunteers at the lunch were in good spirits as they served a meal that included sliced ham, shredded turkey, mashed potatoes with drippings gravy and yams slathered with melted marshmallows.

Susan Rarick, who co-founded the community lunch with her sister, Cindi Koelle, about eight years ago, was particularly proud of the stuffing, which was made from a family recipe. She and other volunteers spent the night of Christmas Eve cooking turkeys. They were back in the kitchen by 6 a.m. Friday to prepare the rest of the food.

Alicia Meador, 19, said serving food at the center is a Christmas tradition. She first came with her parents when she was 12 years old, and she has returned every year since.

"I really value community service, so that keeps me coming," Meador said.

Due to layoffs in the oil and gas industry, Rarick said she expected to serve more meals this year, but the snow seemed to discourage some residents from leaving their house Friday.

That was not the cases for Terry Emmons, an Aztec resident and recent transplant from Houston.

"I'll take ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes," Emmons, 30, told the staff. "Everything my grandma used to cook."

Emmons said this was his first Christmas away from his home in Houston. He moved to Aztec to be with his fiancé, whom he met at Texas Southern University.

"She's at home right now," Emmons said. "She's pregnant and nauseous."

He said it's hard being away from home, "but I've got my fiancé, and that's all that matters."

Lenn McQuitty, a World War II veteran and former Aztec city commissioner, sat with his wife, Mary. Mary McQuitty said they had known each other for years, but they only got married 13 years ago.

Lenn McQuitty is 88 years old. Due to his failing health, he can hardly leave the house, for fear he'll catch a debilitating illness.

"I can't be around people," Lynn McQuitty said. "I take my chances, but if I get something, it'll be the end of me."

McQuitty said this Christmas meal was an exception, a chance to spend time with others in the community and celebrate his Christian faith.

"I cherish being here," he said.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644. 

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