NEW BRITAIN - With the first white Christmas the state has seen in several years, there was an extra hint of magic in the air as people entered South Church for the annual Christmas Day Community Dinner.
Sidewalks still uncleared didn’t deter many from making their way downtown. Passersby were greeted with a smile and a “Merry Christmas.”
For over 40 years, South Church’s Cooper Hall has been the site of this Christmas tradition.
“In the late ’60s or early ’70s, (the Rev. Hugh Penney) and his family and the family of another pastor put on the dinner for church members who didn’t have family to be with plus a theater group that was meeting here,” Jane Rowe, lead pastor at South Church, said.
“So it was a small thing, but from there it began to grow,” she added.
More than 500 free meals consisting of ham, potatoes, yams, rolls, apple sauce, pies, green beans and milk were prepared for those in need. Home deliveries were also provided for New Britain residents who were elderly, disabled or shut in.
“When Mr. Penney became the pastor, the church had recently acquired the building and on the side of the building is the motto ‘In the heart of the city, for the heart of the city’ and when they called him as their pastor they said, ‘We want you to really help us live that motto,’ ” said Rowe. “There were many ways he got involved in the community, this was one way of reaching out.”
Today, Rowe said, it’s one of the signature events the church hosts in carrying out that mission.
About 150 volunteers from businesses, faith communities and organizations in the Greater New Britain area helped prepare, serve, package, and deliver meals as well as clean up afterward.
Rowe, who has been volunteering at the dinner on and off for the last 15 years, said the volunteers often tell her how it represents the true meaning of Christmas.
“We feel that we are closer to Jesus and the meaning of his birth when we share this day with people who live on the margins of our society (like he did),” she said.
While the Christmas dinner benefited members of the community needing a warm meal and company for the holiday, Rowe said it was a treat for those serving, too.
“We’ve had families come ... I don’t see them this year, but there was a family who came the last couple of years whose father had passed away and they decided they were dedicating the day to serving,” she said. “I think that’s a really important thing about this. It heals us to help others.”