The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

December 26, 2012

Filled with holiday cheer

Everybody like family at church in Conneaut

By WARREN DILLAWAY - warren@starbeacon.com
Star Beacon

CONNEAUT —  A long line of festively dressed servers greeted visitors with a smile and a meal Tuesday afternoon as New Leaf United Methodist Church opened its doors to anyone who needed a meal — or fellowship.

The church’s fellowship hall was packed with tables and holiday decorations as people lined up to grab a meal and some dessert. The invitation was open to anyone; not just for those unable to afford a meal.

“We are the hands and the feet of Christ. Jesus gave and gave and gave to the poor, needy and hurting so ‘who are we not to follow his example?’” asked Jan Walsh, who serves as one of the pastors at the church.

Walsh said the church also provided Christmas stockings for any children attending the event.

“I was going to Cleveland to visit my family but the weather is supposed to be bad,” said Conneaut resident Patrick Donofrio  of his decision to attend the dinner.

“People, food and Christmas,” Bob Ryder, also of Conneaut, said of his reason for attending. He said the dinner was a chance to “mingle a little bit.”

The church began the Christmas dinner several years ago when three churches joined to form New Leaf United Methodist Church.

Debbie Rzeszutek said she and her husband decided to volunteer for the first time because they are empty nesters. “Our daughter lives in Texas so we have nothing to do,” she said.

Dave Jones, who has a long history of serving meals on the holidays in the Conneaut area, said this was his first time cooking for a Christmas dinner.

He said things started slow Tuesday, about 50 people in the first 30 minutes, but that wasn’t all bad. “That’s kind of nice because (that means) people have a place to go,” he said.

“An empty chair (at the church) means somebody has a place to be,” Jones said.

The church has a dinner open to the public every Friday evening throughout the y ear. “This kind of takes the place of our Friday dinner (this week),” Jones said.

Bob Shackle said he decided to help serve Christmas dinner to others because his family follows a different schedule for getting together. “Our family usually gets together the Saturday before (Christmas) so we are usually alone (on Christmas),” he said.