Sonora, CA — With a seemingly modest budget of $4,000, tons of help and cheer from more than 25 local organizations and 250-plus volunteers are enabling a feast to remember for nearly 2,500 Mother Lode residents.
Indeed, Tuolumne County’s Community Christmas Eve Day Dinner, held in the Sierra Room at the fairgrounds takes a community to pull off. “We started out this morning making 700 meals that we were delivering all through the county…and after that, we get ready for all the guests to come here,” explains Interfaith Community Social Services Executive Director Cathie Peacock, who generally plans on an additional 1,700 to 1,800 meals to be served by volunteers on location from noon to 6 p.m.
The festive feast and gathering, now in its 33rd year, features a full turkey dinner with all the traditional trimmings, plenty of desserts and beverages, all served by volunteers turned out in holiday attire that runs the gambit from Santa hats and light-up jewelry to colorful Christmas sweaters.
Peacock says that the Diestel-provided turkeys and donations of other items, such as coffee all help stretch the budget. Long-time volunteer Rita Wolf and the Master Swimmers group provide and deliver all the desserts, which they have Safeway cook.
Setting up the Sierra Room took two full days, according to Peacock, between decorating trees, hanging lights and loading in deliveries of toys and provisions. Along with local volunteers, she shares that this year a family from Fremont came out for two days, specifically to help with pre-staging for the big event before slipping back home to celebrate Christmas Eve in front of their own hearth.
The event’s Santa in-residence, Don Sullivant, surrounded by toys and books was enabled to hold court for the young and young at heart due to more volunteer efforts, as Peacock explains. “The Curtis Creek school staff and principal, Teri Bell, has been saving up all year long. They go out and buy things…get them all ready and bring them down here in a school bus…set up the toy shop and it helps Santa out so he can hand out a little something to each child who comes in to see him.” Along with a toy every child now gets a book through the school’s efforts.
Smiling in their Christmas sweaters, Jim and Dorothy Brown keep an eye on Santa’s workshop, sharing that they are “at least” in their tenth year of turning out to volunteer, as carolers sing in a hall filled with the sounds of laughter, conversation and kids cuddling their new toys.