By MADDY VITALE
Community spirit, fellowship, generosity and what the true meaning of Christmas just may be about were found at St. Peter’s United Methodist Church in Ocean City on Friday afternoon.
More than 150 people went to the church at 501 E. Eighth Street for a “Christmas Dinner Served by the Community.”
People waited in a line for their free dinners of ham, green beans and sweet potatoes and desserts, all courtesy of local businesses.
Bags filled tables inside of St. Peter’s stuffed with sides from coleslaw to applesauce and bread to go along with the Christmas feast.
“We are so fortunate to have enough. We can share. We should share,” said church member and volunteer for the dinner, Bob McNamara, of Ocean City.
Patty and Jon Talese, owners of the Ocean City restaurant, Jon & Patty’s Bistro, helped hand out the dinners.
“This is what we should be doing,” Patty Talese said. “And this year there is a greater need. Hopefully there is enough food for everyone.”
Dave Boston, of Ocean City, stood in line for the dinner, just as he had last month, for Thanksgiving.
“It hasn’t been a good year,” Boston noted. “What they do at St. Peter’s is really good, though. I am appreciative of what they do. This will make Christmas a little better.”
Boston works in the restaurant industry, but like some others who came to St. Peter’s on Christmas Day for the meals, times have been tough for a while. COVID-19 has made it even harder to find work, especially in industries that suffered long shutdowns during the pandemic.
Karry Jorge lives in Atlantic County, but she comes to St. Peter’s for the meals each year. She has children ages 12, 13 and 22. She lost her job and her unemployment is running out.
“It’s been hard – especially this year,” Jorge said. “With three kids it is hard. You worry about them having enough. We are very thankful for these Christmas dinners, though.”
And the day before, local families opted to spend their Christmas Eve doing something to help others.
The Fasy, Young and Wisnefski families delivered more than 150 dinners to Wesley by the Bay, Pecks Beach Village and Bayview Manor housing complexes.
All of the meals handed out at St. Peter’s and delivered by the local families were courtesy of Bill McGinnity, of Nobil Catering, and other local businesses, as well as the charitable organization, OCNJ CARE, headed by resident Drew Fasy.
Jen Bowman, who is in charge of the food ministry at St. Peter’s United Methodist Church, and a host of other church members and volunteers, took over providing the dinners after organizers Mike and Peaches Lukens retired last year from the event they created 30 years ago.
Fasy, who often works with Bowman, who is also a member of OCNJ CARE, said, “The Christmas dinner event, we felt, was an important Ocean City tradition to continue — even if done differently this year. The food is one aspect, the fellowship and care is the more important piece. We did not want that to be missed, especially this year.”
“Jen Bowman organized this and did an amazing job. We are so grateful to all of the volunteers and partners who so generously helped us,” Fasy added. “Cousin’s Restaurant prepared beautiful meals.”
He continued, “Arlene’s, Bennies, and Wards all contributed. Jon & Patty’s and Spadafora’s, the people at St. Peter’s — there was a lot of support for this effort. I think everyone understood the importance of keeping this tradition alive.”
And in all of the dinners, St. Peter’s Pastor Eric Hall left a message of hope for the recipients.
“The blessings and gifts we share with each other remind us of friendship and community. This Christmas meal is an expression of our love for you and we hope you have a wonderful holiday filled with peace.”