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These civic-minded volunteers escape post-holiday letdown

by Gail Marsh

Asst. city editor

The week after Christmas can sometimes bring the blahs.

There's been so much preparation and anticipation and visiting and eating that the week following the holiday can be somewhat of a letdown.

I had to wonder how the organizers of this year's Community Christmas Dinner, hosted by the First United Methodist Church in Clarksburg, were coping.

With 1,100 meals under their belts, I expected them to be exhausted and ready for a break -- but instead, everyone I talked with said the group couldn't wait until next year.

No blahs there, and for good reason.

"It was very rewarding for us. It's really what Christmas is all about," said Rob Gifford, a Clarksburg attorney who does the administrative duties for the event. On Christmas Day he headed up the home delivery of more than 800 meals.

Rob and his wife, Susan Gifford, who also is an attorney, have been helping with the county-wide dinner since 1994 and said they can't imagine doing anything else on Christmas.

"My wife and I used to just sleep in on Christmas morning and then go to be with family and friends. But now they know not to plan to see us until after 2-3 p.m. because they know what we'll be doing," he said.

Rob said Rod Rogers founded the program back in 1991 and he and Rob and Billy Nichols have helped it to grow. It's turned into a year-round project.

"This year we had the help of all the county Lions Clubs. They put up posters and contacted the people in their communities they knew needed a meal. Several of the clubs, like Anmoore, just came in, got 46 dinners and delivered them to the people in their area," he said.

Getting the turkey dinner, with all the trimmings, delivered to 800 people took some serious planning. Rob and Susan spent Christmas Eve organizing the routes so that 22 drivers could deliver all around the county.

The food preparation had to be extremely organized. The volunteers were able to box up the meals and have them ready to go in one hour.

So many people give their time to make the dinner a success. For the last two years, the Rev. Scott Holcombe has made 125 pumpkin pies. Kroger at Eastpointe has a program going where people can buy a turkey at the store and donate it to the dinner. The store then baked 24 of the turkeys that were used in the meal.

"We haven't had to buy any turkeys for the last three years because people have donated them," Rob said.

Janice McMurdo brought her state-of-the-art keyboard and serenaded the workers and those eating at the church.

"I missed last year because my mother was very ill, but I told them this year I would be there. I have a lot of empathy for people who maybe don't have family or some place to go on Christmas, and it's great to be able to play and make them smile," she said.

John Maxwell and his wife, Judy, have been helping with the dinner for several years. This year, John delivered meals to Clarksburg Towers.

"There are 11 floors and I delivered meals on 10 of them. I know that some of the people enjoyed seeing someone to talk with as much as they did the meal," he said.

All of the volunteers I talked with voiced their concerns for the hungry and the homeless in Harrison County, and how their needs are met during other times of the year. Rob said the organizers are considering starting up a second community dinner to take place at Easter.

Not one of the volunteers had any gripes the week after Christmas. No complaints, no blahs. Volunteering has its own rewards.

The Scripture really is true. "...he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed." -- Prov. 11:25.

Assistant City Editor Gail Marsh can be reached at 626-1447 or by e-mail at gmarsh@exponent-telegram.com.

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