Christmas tradition still going strong after 13 years

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AZTEC — The kitchen at the Aztec Senior-Community Center was full of volunteers today working hard to make sure everyone in the community had a hot meal for the Christmas holiday.

The volunteers were preparing nearly 400 meals to serve to the community, an increase from previous years, senior center director Cindy Lacovetto said.

The center has historically prepared meals for about 200 to 250 people each year, according to The Daily Times archives.

The senior center starts to collect donations and planning the meal in October, according to Susan Rarick. She has volunteered for every dinner since the first one was organized about 13 years ago.

This is the first time she has volunteered without her sister Ellen "Cindy" Koelle, who died on Sept. 29 just before organizing for this year's event began. Koelle was key to collecting donations for the meal, Rarick said.

"We've been doing a scramble to get things done," Rarick said. "We are not near as good as it as she was."

The volunteers start cooking the meal on Monday morning with items including 480 homemade rolls, 14 turkeys and 10 hams.

Volunteers started showing up around 6 a.m. today to ensure everything was cooked in time to start delivery around 11 a.m.

Some residents call ahead with the number of meals they are requesting. Some of the volunteers deliver meals to employees in Aztec working on the holiday, Lacovetto said. Other volunteers go door to door to ensure everyone has a meal today.

Darnell Misner was one of the volunteers. He spent time today slicing pies that had been donated for the meal. He used to volunteer at the senior center when he was taking college classes and thought it would be a good idea to help today.

"It's definitely important for a community that has gone through a lot," Misner said. "It's a really good time to give back as much as you can."

Scott and Brigitte Iverson volunteered to help deliver meals around the community of Aztec.

Scott Iverson has volunteered in previous years to deliver meals and took a break for a couple of years but was eager to help feed the community this year.

"It's important to give back," Scott Iverson said. "Doing something nice for somebody that brings out the Christmas spirit in everyone."

The leftover food is boxed up and taken to various organizations, including Childhaven and those staying at the People Assisting the Homeless campus, according to Lacovetto.

Joshua Kellogg covers crime, courts and social issues for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at jkellogg@daily-times.com.

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