The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

December 20, 2013

Christmas dinner for all in Fulton

Herald Staff Writer

FULTON, Ill. — For 29 years, residents of Fulton and the surrounding area have been assured of one thing on Christmas Day — a hot meal.

In 1984, seven Fulton community members decided to organize a holiday meal at the local fire station, providing a place for people to go for a Christmas meal with people who care.

“They really and truly did it for years, because there were too many people alone on the holiday,” current chairwoman Barb Suehl-Janis said. “So we had agreed to take it over for one year when the last committee just got too old to take care of it all. That was 17 years ago.”

Now, the Fulton Community Christmas Dinner has grown from serving approximately 25 meals, to more than 200 at the fire station and more than 150 delivered to people’s homes.

In the spirit of giving, Suehl-Janis and her many volunteers feel no one should go hungry on Christmas, which is why they have continued to offer the dinner despite the time and energy required to put it all together.

“The meal is served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and, by 3 we’re about ready to crawl out of there we’re so tired,” Suehl-Janis said. “It’s lot’s of work but we are so glad to do it. Thats what it is all about — to share with one another on Christmas.”

To grow that sharing, the Christmas dinner organizers deliver meals from the fire station to Camanche, Clinton, Fulton and Albany, Ill., for people who are unable to travel on their own or choose to stay in during the holiday.

Last year the group delivered 166 meals to those in need on Christmas, but Suehl-Janis expects this year that number will continue to grow.

“Because of the economy the need is really great, so we feel many will come to the dinner this year,” Suehl-Janis said. “But, there are so many elderly that can’t make it that our deliveries continue getting higher.”

Whether people attend the dinner or have their hot meal of turkey, ham, stuffing and mashed potatoes delivered to their home, the reason behind it is always the same.

“What a day not to get fed; we just don’t think that’s right,” Suehl-Janis said.

In order to continue to provide the meal for all those in need on Christmas, an outpouring of community support is what keeps Suehl-Janis and her team above water.

Sweetheart Bakery donates hundreds of rolls at 50 percent of cost; Eagle River Liquor owner Bill Balk donates 100 percent of the drinks, such as milk, soft drinks and water; and Exelon in Cordova, Ill., provides half of funding to purchase the ingredients to make the meal.

In addition to the financial support the organization gets from local businesses, the even larger contributions come from those who volunteer their time for the cause.

Long-time head cook Dickey Bullers committed more than 17 years to the annual Christmas dinner, and when he died last year, his son Shawn inherited the job willingly.

“Shawn vowed that he would continue his dad’s tradition, and jumped into the head cook position,” Suehl-Janis said. “He drives 50 to 75 miles away to be here to cook this dinner every year. His whole Christmas Day is spent with us so that he can keep his dad’s tradition alive.”

It is that kind of support from the community that ensures the message she and the many volunteers are spreading is heard and the community dinner will continue for many years.

Her only request: “that the bakery angels look down on us and bring baked goods.”