The luncheon, organizer Tina Jennings said, is a chance for those in need to have a Christmas dinner and also a chance to get a winter coat, if needed.
“But if people have come on hard times, and they want to bring their families [they’re welcome]. Of course we try to make it fun and have entertainment, and we have the coat drive so we can give away coats,” she said.
The luncheon started four years ago when a group of Toyo employees asked the company to sponsor a community Christmas dinner rather than a dinner for employees. A coat drive was added in the second year, Jennings said, as another free offering to the community.
Toyo provides the funds for each luncheon, while the coats and desserts are donated. Jennings said approximately 562 coats were donated this year.
Volunteers included 40 Toyo employees, more than 100 other volunteers, members of the Cartersville Civil Air Patrol and entertainers such as the Bartow County Boot Scooters, the Lee Castro family and disc jockey Don Gardner.
“We never have a problem,” Jennings said about finding volunteers. “God just puts it all together and we just kind of organize it all, which is the fun part. It’s my favorite day of the year.”
The CAP, Jennings added, is an integral part of each year’s luncheon. The organization takes out trash, helps set up and tear down the event and assists with parking.
“We really, literally, could not do this without the Civil Air Patrol,” Jennings said.
CAP Public Information Officer Maj. Ilana Mor said helping with the luncheon was part of the CAP’s larger goal of community outreach and service.
“The idea of being able to reach out, to touch other people’s lives, is a very, very important thing,” she said. “I think that when [cadets] come to something like this, it’s not just the idea of throwing out trash or helping distribute coats or saying ‘good morning’ or ‘merry Christmas’... it’s the idea of our lives should benefit the existence of others.
“I think this is something that, most definitely, is an event that the cadets are able to see that their actions are really, really helping other people.”
Joyce Grant was among the luncheon’s attendees. She and her husband gathered a number of coats to take back to her neighbors and acquaintances who were unable to attend, but were in need of new winter clothing.
“This benefits people [who] ain’t got nothing, especially coats. A lot of people can’t afford these coats in here,” she said.
Patty McCallister attended the luncheon with her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. While her family does come together for Christmas, she said, it was important for as many of them as possible to be together today in light of the tragedy in Newtown, Conn.
“I’m thinking parents are waking up this morning and wanting to hug their kid or fix breakfast and they’re not going to be able to,” she said.
Jennings estimated the luncheon would serve 2,500 people this year, which is the largest number yet. Planning is already under way for next year’s event, and while Jennings could not give an exact date she believed it would be held Dec. 14 or 21.
No matter the date or the number of people served, though, Jennings’ favorite part of the luncheon will never change.
“I like watching families with small children come and eat, and watch their faces as they watch the entertainment. I just like to make sure everybody has plenty to eat,” she said.