By MADDY VITALE
Nancy and Bob McNamara joined friends Kathy and Tom Thompson in the kitchen at St. Peter’s United Methodist Church in Ocean City Tuesday morning.
While Tom stuffed bags with chocolates and other confections, Bob did the dishes and Nancy and Kathy scooped healthy portions of coleslaw and applesauce into plastic cups to be stored in the refrigerator.
The sides — 300 of each — would soon become part of a Christmas feast for anyone in the community struggling, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic, or simply in need of some fellowship and a warm meal among friends.
“We need to get these people fed for the holidays. We just have to hope for a safe and healthy 2021,” Nancy McNamara said.
“I hope everyone has a beautiful, safe, Christmas,” Kathy Thompson said. “COVID isn’t going to stop us.”
For 30 years, Mike and Peaches Lukens were in charge of a Christmas dinner at the church. But last year the Lukens announced that they were moving from Ocean City and would no longer do the dinner.
Jen Bowman, who is in charge of the food ministry at St. Peter’s Church, and a host of church members and volunteers quickly picked up where Mike and Peaches Lukens left off. And with the pandemic preventing any gathering, they had to alter what was a tradition for many for generations.
The new name is “Christmas Dinner Served by the Community.”
“Obviously this year with COVID we couldn’t hold the dinner in the church because of capacity, but if any year there is a need, it is this year,” Bowman pointed out. “We knew we had to do some form of the dinner.”
From noon until 1 p.m. Christmas Day, people may go to the church at 501 E. Eighth Street for takeout and curbside pickup of the free dinners. The meals are on a first-come, first-served basis while supplies last.
All of the meals are courtesy of Bill McGinnity, of Nobil Catering, and other local businesses as well as OCNJ CARE, headed by resident Drew Fasy. The charitable organization gives assistance where it sees the need in the community.
The dinners come complete with honey ham, sweet potatoes, green beans and coleslaw and bread as well as a chocolate cake and cookies.
Meanwhile, downstairs, members of the Ocean City Fire Department delivered 2,100 pounds of food to the church from the community food bank for another important program for families in need – Holiday Helpings.
“Holiday Helpings offers food to families in between Christmas and Easter when kids are home,” Bowman explained.
Even in a time when some children are taught virtually and schools are given free meals to all students throughout the week, there is always a need for more food, noted Bowman.
Students from the Ocean City High School Key Club dropped off food to the food cupboard as well to do their part to help those in need, Bowman said.
“They are just awesome,” she added.
Susie Stauffer is the director of Holiday Helpings. Stauffer did not wish to comment, however, so Bowman spoke on her behalf about the importance of the program.
“Holiday Helpings provides milk, loaves of bread, meal prep, peanut butter and jelly and soups to families,” Bowman said. “It really helps fill in the gap.”
Before the firefighters left, Deputy Fire Chief Bernie Walker said a few words about the department’s feelings toward all of the work that the volunteers do, from St. Peter’s to OCNJ CARE to Holiday Helpings.
“They are doing a tremendous job to help the community. It is in our nature to do what we can to help out. That is why a lot of us became firefighters,” Walker said. “Everyone on this job wants to help. That is a big part of what it means to be part of this community.”