Out & About: Listen’s Christmas Day meal returns with volunteer support

Rodney Jenness, of Lebanon, N.H., passes a plate of turkey to another at his table during the annual Lebanon Christmas Day Dinner in Lebanon, N.H., on Dec. 25, 2018. Listen Community Services, which serves six community meals a week at their White River Junction dining facility, began running the annual Christmas meal this year.  (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Rodney Jenness, of Lebanon, N.H., passes a plate of turkey to another at his table during the annual Lebanon Christmas Day Dinner in Lebanon, N.H., on Dec. 25, 2018. Listen Community Services, which serves six community meals a week at their White River Junction dining facility, began running the annual Christmas meal this year. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Geoff Hansen

Jim and Sue Fitch, of Cornish, N.H., serve, from left, Philip Allan, of Piermont, N.H., Harjit Rakhra, Norwich, Vt., and Sandy James, of Newbury, Vt., at the annual Lebanon Christmas Day Dinner in Lebanon, N.H., on Dec. 25, 2018. The diners said they have been coming for several years and return to meet new people. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Jim and Sue Fitch, of Cornish, N.H., serve, from left, Philip Allan, of Piermont, N.H., Harjit Rakhra, Norwich, Vt., and Sandy James, of Newbury, Vt., at the annual Lebanon Christmas Day Dinner in Lebanon, N.H., on Dec. 25, 2018. The diners said they have been coming for several years and return to meet new people. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news — Geoff Hansen

By LIZ SAUCHELLI

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 12-17-2023 12:51 AM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Listen Community Services is bringing back its Christmas Day meal.

This year’s spread will be pickup and takeout only. People are required to reserve one of the 700 meals by calling 603-727-2518. They can either pick up the turkey dinner from Listen’s dining hall, located at 42 Maple St., in White River Junction, between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., or ask to have it delivered.

“We’re thrilled that we can offer the meal again this year,” Listen Executive Director Rob Roy McGregor said.

The food will be prepared by staff and volunteers at the dining hall. The 700 servings being prepared is a hard cap, McGregor said, and is based on the number served in past years.

“This year we were wanting to go with the benchmark number,” he said.

In addition to turkey, the menu includes gravy, potatoes, a vegetable, rolls and dessert. Around 50 people have volunteered to bake Christmas cookies.

Last year, Listen leaders canceled the annual meal because of an increase in demand for the food pantry and a spike in the number of people attending the community dinners. Staff and volunteers were stretched too thin as a result.

In July, Listen staff started to discuss what it would take to bring the repast back. One of the changes was switching the location from Lebanon’s Sacred Heart Church to the White River Junction dining hall.

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“It’s just easier for us being able to do it on our own property,” McGregor said.

They also had a very important commitment from another community organization: Congregation Shir Shalom in Woodstock.

“We literally would not have committed to doing this if we did not have Shir Shalom as a partner,” McGregor said.

Margie Elsberg, who is vice president of communications at Shir Shalom, said the partnership makes a lot of sense. The two organizations share a connection with Sophia Gawel, who works at Listen and is a member of Shir Shalom. Elsberg said Gawel shared Listen’s needs with congregation members.

“It’s the perfect fit,” Elsberg said, noting that the Jewish community has a long history of volunteering on Christmas Day. “When they told us how many meals they distribute … I was amazed and to realize that there are so many people in need.”

There will be between five and 10 Shir Shalom members at a time at the dining hall from around 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. to distribute meals. Around 30 community members also have volunteered to deliver to people who live in the Upper Valley.

“We have dozens and dozens of volunteers who are helping,” McGregor said. “Some people are contributing financially, some are contributing with their sweat equity so to speak.”

McGregor said that he is currently unsure how much the meal will cost; Listen staff are still figuring out what food they can get donated and what they will have to purchase.

“We just committed to 700 and we don’t know where all our costs land on this,” he said.

While this year the food is takeout and delivery only, there is a chance that the in-person dinner might return.

“For this year it would have been too much,” McGregor said. “In future years, we’re open to the idea but we wanted to make sure we’re successful doing it in this manner.”

Christmas Day Dinners

Claremont’s Trinity Church will host a Christmas Day meal from 1 to 3 p.m. at 120 Broad St. There will be vegetarian and vegan options available. Those who are interested in attending are asked, but not required, to RSVP via trinityclaremont.org/upcoming-events.

Windsor’s Old South Church will host its Christmas Dinner from noon to 2 p.m. at 146 Main St. Contact Ruth McCabe at 802-674-4445 or sparkle9699@yahoo.com for more information.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.