Christmas brings abundance of good food, hungry people

Community dinner held Thursday in Steamboat Springs

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For the many people who were sitting in quiet living rooms moments before, the warm lively atmosphere of Thursday's community dinner made the day feel like Christmas.

In the kitchen, there were cooks at every burner warming and preparing 400 dinner rolls, 20 turkeys and 12 smoked hams, plus vats of mashed potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce.

In the dining room, Gary Burman and Bob Shaffer from Gaeltacht and Paul Geppert from 3 Wire were playing Christmas carols and Celtic-inspired holiday music. Strangers were smiling and greeting each other as they reached for another slice of pumpkin pie.

Toys covered the floor below the tree. A Steamboat resident asked that guests to his Christmas party bring a children's gift instead of food or wine. He brought all those gifts to the community dinner and left them for children who needed presents.

"This is my first time coming to the community dinner, but it's not my last," Betty Craig said. "The music is great. The food is great. What else can I say?"

In the doorway of the dining room, Marci Valicenti and Karen Hughes took a quick break from keeping food on the buffet table to look out on what they had accomplished.

Hughes had been hard at work until 11 p.m. the night before, receiving and buying last-minute food for the dinner.

The Smokehouse donated smoked turkeys. The Board of Realtors, which has sponsored the Christmas dinner for more than 20 years, purchased a few, and still more were donated by City Market, Safeway and members of the community.

Valicenti had been working on the decorations since Monday.

"This is our chance to give back to the community," she said.

Hughes volunteers her spare time to the community dinner, as well as the time of her husband and three sons.

Their work paid off. In the dining room, longtime friends Maxine Ohman and Thelma Whitmer were enjoying the last of their dinner and enjoying the music.

"I've been working here for years," Whitmer said. "I have five kids in five different states, so this is as close as I can get to a family gathering.

"I think this is the real Christmas spirit. It's not just that it's free, it's that we are here sharing."

Conversation at the table fell silent for a moment as Gary Burman took a solo on the Uillean pipes, an Irish version of the bagpipes played with the elbow.

Outside, the snow was turning gray on Howelsen Hill as the sun set on Christmas 2003.

-- To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210

or e-mail aphillips@steamboatpilot.com

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