After Todd Lear and Dave Stewart coordinated the delivery of nearly 700 free Christmas dinners from LulaBelle’s restaurant to local people on Tuesday, Lear reported he was surprised to see the number increase so much over last year’s 550 deliveries. He said 25 or 30 people arrived at 9 a.m. to deliver the dinners, and “it was just the right amount of people.”
This year the deliveries began earlier than in the past - thanks to the hams being baked at Java Jive - and all had been delivered by 10:30 a.m., according to Mike Ginsberg, co-owner of LulaBelle’s with his wife, Pam. Todd and Dave do a good job, Mike said, adding “I think of George (Danforth) every year. He did it every year since we began (until his death in 2010).”
Several people make the dinner an annual family gathering. Among them was the McAtees, Doug and his sons, Jason, Justin and Joe McAtee, along with Jason’s 4-year-old daughter Sandra, and Joe’s fiance, Mikala Day.
Jason reported his daughter’s other grandpa is Chris Muehring, who delivers the Courier-Post.
Mikala said the cheesecake was her favorite menu item. Jason and Joe chose the green beans, and Justin, the ham. Doug said his favorite thing is not the food but “being with the family.” All his sons had come to see their Stowell School second grade teacher, Ann Lear, a regular Christmas dinner volunteer with her husband, Todd. She explained she is retired from teaching but now is admissions and volunteer coordinator at the Mark Twain Museum. Her family had been helping with the dinner for 20 years, and her daughters, Maggie and Abbie, grew up helping. “It is part of our family traditions.”
Janace Simmons of Chattanooga, Tenn., brought her mother and stepdad, Donnie and Raymond Ledford of Hannibal. Simmons said “I think it is fabulous. It’s the most wonderful thing they can do for Christmas. It definitely shows the Christmas spirit.”
Some of the diners were enjoying being served, after being involved in cooking and serving the Thanksgiving dinner at the American Legion. Sharon and Chuck Houston explained he is the cook at the American Legion dinner and she always makes the dressing.
Another group said they came because all their children were elsewhere. They were Jim and Marie Criley, Nancy and Max Jensen, and Mark McManus.
At one table, Robert English explained he is currently homeless, staying at the Hope House and seeking a job. He has no phone but can be reached by email at email@example.com.
Pam Ginsberg wanted to wish everyone a merry Christmas, adding that the volunteers ranged from age 1 to 96-year-old Len Moss, who also makes it an annual tradition.
Page 2 of 2 - The 1-year-old was the Ginsbergs’ granddaughter, Hazel Judlowe, daughter Laura and Lucas Judlowe. She was “eye candy,” someone said. The Ginsbergs' other daughter, Emma, and her fiance, Brian Livingston, had helped earlier Tuesday.
Some of the volunteer cooks had been at LulaBelle’s since 6 a.m. Among them was Martha Adrian. She arrived early to cut the cakes before serving the food. Carol Reading, Teresa Hays and Karen Martino, also dishing up food in the kitchen, arrived at 8 a.m.
A large number of the people serving the dining room crowd have helped for many years, such as Betty Pfaff, who was there, “so I don’t have to cook.”
Some were new this year. R.J. King just arrived in Hannibal two months ago from Burlington, Iowa. He is working at General Mills and had asked people where he could volunteer on Christmas. He was kept busy serving the salads.
Tony Jones is there every year simply because, “I love helping people.” Several of the diners came because Tony had announced the dinner on the web site of his church, The Crossing. One group from The Crossing was Judy Jones, Shirley Lindemeyer, who said the dinner “shared the Christmas spirit” and Anje Hunt, who said “it was a lot of fun.”
See photo gallery for more photos.