Delmar Events
Thursday, December 23rd, 1999
Christmas dinner is for all people
By Lynn R. Parks
For the 19th year, Ford Brewington of Delmar is organizing a Christmas Day dinner, free and open to all, "black, white, green or purple."
"This dinner means an awful lot to a lot of people," said Brewington, 65. "So many people are suicidal at this time of year, we just don't know how many lonely people there are. That's why we have this dinner; not because people are poor, but because they are lonely. It's a fellowship time."
"I know myself that it is not the same with the kids and the grandkids grown up," said Howard Disharoon, Salisbury, Md., who helps Brewington organize the meal. "When you can't have Christmas with your kids, you find something to replace it. And I found that in this dinner."
Brewington, who is divorced and has five adult children, organized the first dinner in 1981 after sitting at home by himself on Thanksgiving. "I realized just how lonely people are," he said. "So for Christmas, I fixed a dinner and invited everyone I knew."
Eight people showed up. At the next year's dinner, there were twice that. By 1985, Brewington was preparing dinner for 40 people. "They were in the front room, in the hall, in the dining room and in the kitchen."
In 1986, George Church, then president of the American Legion Glenn Rayne post #15, Delmar, offered Brewington the use of the legion hall, which seats 70. Christmas dinner has been served there every year since then. Last year's meal, which was served all afternoon and which featured 30 hams and 30 turkeys, attracted over 1,000.
"I saw a lot of people come to the door, look at the line and instead of sitting down, get carryouts," said Disharoon. "That suffices as far as a meal is concerned. But it is not good as far as camaraderie and associating with other people is concerned."
So this year, the men asked Mary Tawney, owner of the Delmarva Conference Center, Delmar, Md., if they could use her facility. "This is the kind of thing that at first, you stop and wonder, ‘Do you really want to do this?' " said Tawney, who is at the center whenever it is open. "But then you realize that it is not that big a thing. It is good community service."
Tawney, who is donating the use of the center, said that for a similar occasion she would rent it for $1,200. While actual serving will be done by volunteers, conference center workers will be needed to help people who are coming into and leaving the building, park cars and keep rest rooms operational. "I have had a lot of staff members offer to work, even people with families," said Tawney. "A lot of them said that they will bring their children with them, that they will enjoy helping out for a couple hours or so."
Cooking for the dinner will start the day before, when volunteers will roast turkeys and hams at the VFW hall, Delmar. Early on Christmas morning, the meat will be transported in Brewington's van to the American Legion, where Brewington and Disharoon will begin carving at 7 a.m. Side dishes will be prepared at the Christian Center, Delmar, by brothers Joe and Howard Raley, then taken to the conference center. Serving will be from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Each person who attends the dinner receives two gifts, one of which is a Bible. Gift bags containing fruit, candy and stationary are taken to residents of the Chancellor Care Center of Delmar and leftover food is carted off to church food pantries and missions. "It is a pretty taxing day," said Disharoon. "Last year, I left the house at 6 a.m. and left Delmar for home at 8:30 in the evening."
Brewington said that he has no idea how many volunteers assist in the chores of the day. "People come from Wilmington, Baltimore, Annapolis, we have even had a volunteer from Pittsburgh and another from Norfolk," he said. "So many people come to eat and end up helping out. And the best way to get people in here is to get them to work. So many are too proud to take a free dinner."
Similarly, he has no idea how much the dinner costs. "We don't have a budget," he said. "If we come up short of money, someone will chip in out of his pocket. But so far, we have been lucky to have a little money left over." Remaining funds are donated to the American Legion.
"In a way, this is a struggle," said Brewington, who is blind in one eye, has heart trouble and just had a toe removed because of diabetes. But it is worth it, he said, when he remembers people like a young man who attended several years ago. "His wife had just walked out on him and taken their child. He had to go to a motel so he bought a bottle and on Christmas Day, he was just going to sit there and get drunk."
But after hearing about the dinner on the radio, the man put away the bottle and went to the American Legion home to volunteer. At the end of the day, he thanked Brewington for helping him.
"You have to be there to understand how important this is," said Disharoon. "You have to see their faces when you put food on their plates. Just that alone makes all the work worthwhile."