Annual Christmas dinner serves more than 300

Monday, Dec. 26, 2016 7:43 PM
Kyle Harriman serves up plates of turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes to the hundreds that attended the Cortez Community Christmas dinner on Sunday.
The Jackson and Ahkeah families enjoy Christmas dinner together at the annual Cortez event.
The Valesquez family, Charlie, Diane, and Taylor, enjoyed meeting new people and learning about the importance of sharing.
Bag pipe player Jim Lynch entertains the crowd with traditional music.
The Rowell family visits after a great meal.
Deb Keel and Hal cook up the good stuff in the kitchen at the community Christmas dinner.
Organizer Mitchell Toms and Cassi Sanders show off the extra pies brought in this year to keep up with demand.
Jim Lynch performs traditional music at the Cortez Community Christmas Dinner.
Volunteer Linda Bellush keeps busy serving up pies.

Holiday recipe: Combine 30 volunteers, a commercial kitchen, 25 turkeys, hundreds of potatoes, 20-gallon pots of green beans, a vat of gravy, and stuffing and rolls stretching to the horizon.

Add: Tables overflowing with desserts, good conversation, a bagpipe player and endless pots of coffee, and you’ve got the Cortez Community Christmas Dinner.

Again, a Christmas Day snowstorm did not deter hundreds of locals from attending the annual tradition held at the Montezuma County Annex.

About 350 free meals were served, with 100 taken to go or delivered, according to organizer Mitchell Toms..

“It is really heartwarming to see, very comforting and genuine,” said Kathleen Dooley, who just moved back to the area from Florida. “It brings me joy, and the meal is delicious!”

What makes it extra special is that there is not a line to get a heaping plate of food, said organizer Mitchell Toms.

“It is personal table service, with all the traditional fixings,” he said. “This year, we brought in extra desserts because last year we ran out.”

The event itself costs between $1,500 to $2,000, with money and goods donated by local banks, Future Farmers of America, private donors and grocery stores. But the result is priceless as the community gathers to break bread for the Christmas holiday.

“I love how people got along. I loved the mashed potatoes,” said Taylor Valesquez, 10, who was there with her family. “We talked with new people, and we saw a guy who was alone and invited him to sit with us.”

Her mother, Diane Valesquez, attends every year for the experience and to teach her children “the value of sharing, and how to communicate with people.”

Nearby, Vanessa Martinez, of Cortez, also enjoys a meal with her extended family.

“We’re seeing friends we haven’t seen for a while; it’s a nice event for those who don’t have family nearby,” she said. “The kids love it, the pies are their favorite.”

David Vliet came alone, and Jim Lynch invited him join his group. The new friends swapped stories for hours like they had know each other for years.

“That’s what it is about isn’t it?” Vliet said as Lynch got up to perform “Little Drummer Boy” on the bag pipes to an appreciative crowd.

Cook and Cortez Mayor Karen Sheek said the community dinner has been going on for 30 years.

“The more we do it, the more efficient we get at it, and I love the fact that there are so many volunteers,” Sheek said. “The secret to keeping up is being prepared with backup food that is hot and ready to go onto the serving line.”

Organizers buy the turkeys that have already been cooked then frozen, Toms said. They are thawed in time for the 8 a.m. shift of 10 volunteers who begin the deboning and carving process under the direction of chef Brandon Schubert from Stone Fish, in Cortez.

“Then they go into the oven and are ready in no time,” Toms said. “We’ve got the kinks worked out, and it’s a real pleasure to serve the community.”

Extra food goes to the Bridge Emergency Shelter.

Server Kyle Harriman comes home to Cortez for Christmas every year to help, and his career in the hospitality trades shows as he makes sure everyone gets the food, drinks, and desserts to their heart’s content.

“I’m an only child, and I see this community dinner as my extended family coming together to enjoy visiting and a classic meal,” he said. “What could be merrier?”