A long-standing holiday tradition in Cortez continues this year with the annual Community Christmas Dinner from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Montezuma County Annex Building, at 107 N. Chestnut St.
Mitchell Toms, who has volunteered at the Dec. 25 dinner for nearly 10 years, said the event typically draws about 400 people, and everyone has their own reason to come. Some view it as gathering place to socialize with friends and neighbors, and others might not have the ability to cook a big holiday meal.
“It’s become a community event because people know there’s no charge, but it doesn’t matter whether you’re rich or poor or whatever,” Toms said. “Everyone is welcome.”
Funded entirely by community donations, the annual feast typically includes 30 precooked roasted turkeys, mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce, rolls and plenty of cookies and pies.
Cortez Mayor Karen Sheek said it takes a team of volunteers to run the event, now approaching its 28th year. Some volunteers come bright and early at 8:30 a.m. to carve turkeys for an hour before spending Christmas Day with family. Others like to serve food between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., Sheek said, while others prefer the cleanup shift from 1 to 3 p.m.
“Especially once my kids were gone, I loved going and working at the Community Christmas Dinner because it was just fun,” Sheek said. “It’s a nice way to spend the day.”
Local businesses and organizations support the dinner in addition to monetary donations from individuals, Sheek said. Vectra Bank and Four Corners Community Bank provide donations, and in years past Walmart has provided discounts for food. Cliffrose Garden Center and Four Seasons Greenhouse and Nursery provide flowers for table decorations, and the Montezuma-Cortez High School FFA and Safeway have provide fruit.
For those who can’t make it to the dinner, the Cortez Cultural Center provides a food delivery service on Christmas Day.
“Christmas is supposed to be a holiday where everyone thinks about giving and peace, goodwill and all of that good stuff, and to me, this Christmas dinner is really the personification of that,” Sheek said.
Toms recalled a previous dinner where volunteers found several $100 bills in the donation box after the community dinner. In one recent year, a large snowstorm blanketed Cortez on Christmas Day, but nevertheless over 300 people showed up, and the Cortez Community Center delivered close to 100 meals, Toms said.
“That’s just kind of the way it is in the Cortez community,” Toms said. “We don’t ask for anything for this, and I think we would still get it done. I think it’s just very representative of the Cortez community and how much it gives.”