Attendance for walk-ins was down a bit this year because of snowy weather and snowpacked streets.
“We’ve made up the difference with a lot more deliveries,” said organizer Mitchell Toms. “People still made it out, but the band canceled due to being snowed in.”
By 12:30 p.m., 205 people had sat down with to enjoy a turkey meal with all the fixings. More than 100 to-go meals were delivered in the snow by five brave drivers.
Friends and family sat down with strangers and stranded travelers as volunteers hustled steaming hot plates of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, and cranberry sauce.
“It’s a welcoming event with different cultures coming together. This town has a lot of heart,” said Kendreth Wall, of Towaoc, who arrived with his mother and two nephews. “I’ve been coming here at Christmas since I was a little kid.”
Michelle Lee, of Cortez, started volunteering at the event last year, and arrived at 7 a.m. to begin deboning the dozens of turkeys.
“I could stay home, but I’d rather come here and be with the community,” she said. “I love the camaraderie.”
Cortez mayor and chef Karen Sheek whipped up all the fixings with a half-dozen volunteer cooks. She said the event is an act of compassion and gets easier and more organized every year.
“It says that we care about each other,” Sheek said. “It started out with the premise that nobody should go hungry or be alone on Christmas.”
Even stranded travelers, like Mikhail Barfield, 32, from the “East Coast.” He’s on a cross-country tour of national parks, but got stopped in Cortez after a massive winter storm closed highways and left 15 inches of snow in Cortez, and several feet in the mountains.
“I booked a hotel in town and found out about the Christmas dinner from the Welcome Center,” he said. “It’s a nice meal and a good break from camping food. Now I’m off to Arches National Park.”
Friends Greg Shull, Ty Begay, and Nelson Atine dug into heaping portions of turkey and potatoes, with desserts waiting on the side. Everyone got a poinsettia to take home as well, courtesy of Four Seasons Garden Center.
“The food is wonderful,” Shull said. “I love the generosity and hospitality of the event.”
Road warrior Aaron Lemay delivered meals for hours along slushy streets and snow packed highways.
“People have been very thankful,” he said. “Deliveries have been to a lot of families, handicapped people, and caregivers.”