For the past 23 years, the American Red Cross and the people of Myrtle Beach have prepared Christmas dinner for those in need. It started in 1989 after Hurricane Hugo’s destruction. Long-time Red Cross supporter, Janice Ash Sialiano saw a community in need and had the idea of hosting a Christmas Dinner for those affected by the hurricane. She reached out to the Red Cross to lead this important initiative and now, over two decades later, it is a tradition. You may ask why they continue doing this all these years later, and people will respond that it “offers them a chance to do something good.” And much good has been done.
This year, the Annual Christmas Dinner served over 5,000 individuals from the Myrtle Beach area.
Lee Zulanch, owner of Benjamin’s Bakery and Mike Arakas, owner of Crabby Mike’s co-chaired the dinner. Lee began his journey 10 years ago where he started off helping carve turkeys. Last year, the Red Cross asked him to help with planning and logistics. He came up with a plan that would help them stay within their budget and make sure that there would be consistency in the quality of the meals. He was back again this year with many more great ideas, and through his leadership he helped make it one of the best Christmas dinners yet.
Lee says the dinner has continued for over two decades because, “There is a huge need for people to put that aspect of contribution into their lives.” He says, “The power of people is amazing.” Lee had an immense amount of help from the American Culinary Federation, Georgetown Technical Community College and local high school culinary arts students plus many more volunteers, some who have been a part of this since the beginning.
In addition, there were many other groups that showed an outpour of generosity – ranging from large corporations, to small businesses, to volunteers wanting to simply give their time. Bi-Lo Charities donated $10,000 and a local family foundation donated $5,000. Other companies contributed as well: Hall Enterprises with Bread, Pepisco with soft drinks, S&D Coffee with coffee and tea, Nash Oil Company with diesel fuel to help run the 54 foot refrigerated truck donated by Bi-Lo, Haigney Linen with linens, aprons and napkins. Another volunteer, Iain Purvess donated 40 poinsettias for decorations, and a repairman gave his services for free when there was a problem with the ovens. Countless others donated cash and services. Four area churches donated their kitchen space and fellowship halls for the dinners and Good Samaritan Services made sure that folks who needed a ride to get to the dinner had one. Home Depot supplied volunteers who arrived every day in their orange shirts ready to help.
How do you serve this many people? Begin planning in October. Buy 300 turkeys or three tons of meat, 1,400 pounds of yams and 875 pounds of cranberries. Add a generous helping of volunteers (30 to 60 per day, many of them well versed in the culinary arts) and work for 10 days, add countless local folks bringing in desserts, and generously sprinkle with contributors with large hearts and you get a dinner that as Lee says “isn’t just feeding people, but feeding them a meal that I would be proud of and would enjoy.”
Lee says this is a time of year when the whole community led by the Red Cross comes together to give other agencies a day of celebration with their families and gives those who need a warm meal (and maybe even a coat and scarf) a place to come and celebrate. This has become a lasting tradition for the people in the Myrtle Beach area. Lee says of the thousands of volunteers who make this possible, “It offers them a chance to do something good – it’s amazing what people can do.”
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