Organizers planning holiday dinner

FRONT ROYAL – A group of event organizers from in and around Warren County held their second volunteer meeting Thursday for the first Christmas Spirit Community Dinner on Christmas Day.

The dinner will last from 12-6 p.m. Christmas Day at the North Warren Volunteer Fire Department, and the organizers are encouraging anyone and everyone to come out and enjoy the meal.

Dana and Tony Knave, owners of Full Plate Catering, and a core group of volunteering family and friends decided to concentrate their efforts to start an annual event this year. Dana Knave said that since their meetings began in October, they’ve seen an encouraging amount of interest from volunteers – not so much from registering attendees.

“You don’t get a whole heck of a lot of response because I think a lot of people are to themselves about it,” said organizer Renee Athey. “It’s not just the needy, it’s the people who are alone or want to spend time with others…we don’t want anyone sitting home alone on Christmas Day.”

Volunteers will deliver a number of meals to those who can’t leave their homes and around 100 meals to the Salvation Army in Winchester. Others will help serve and chat with those receiving meals. Knave said most of the organizers’ families will be celebrating on Christmas Eve and volunteer families are invited to dinner as well.

Although the organizers have seen similar Thanksgiving community meals, Dana Knave said they aren’t aware of any meals or meal deliveries in the area on Christmas Day. She said much of the inspiration to hold the event was to help out children and families who might not have the means for a hearty Christmas dinner.

“I think when you hear about the number of children that go home on Fridays with the backpack program in the school system, who don’t have food to eat on the weekend…it has a lot to do with the children,” she said.

Knave’s daughter Morgan won gold at a national FCCLA conference in eighth grade through helping out with the Luke’s Backpack effort in Shenandoah County, which provides hundreds of schoolchildren with food for their families.

Organizer Kimberly Knight said she never knew there was such a thing until last year.  “I never knew that kids went home and didn’t eat all weekend.”

At first, the organizers wanted to provide any children coming to the meal with their own toy. They later switched to a grab bag model of using a drawstring backpack donated by area churches and businesses to pick items out of different categorized boxes for things like stuffed animals, hygiene items, winter accessories and activities.  Organizers have been collecting the items from various drop-off locations in Front Royal and Strasburg. Adult attendees will also get to pick from a few small gifts for themselves.

Through monetary donations, the organizers have raised more than $5,000 for the dinner and gifts thus far. Businesses have offered them discounts and they’ve been assured 20 turkeys to prep for the meal.

Knave said any leftover money would go toward take-home gifts or gift certificates. She and the other organizers are already discussing plans for collecting donations and dinners in other locations next year, and they’ll finalize technical plans and setup at the last meeting on Dec. 21.

The organizers are still on the lookout for table sponsors, volunteers and attendees to come join in their holiday celebration.

Learn more about the dinner at http://tinyurl.com/nvjtq9s or contact Tony Knave at 540-671-1478, Dana Knave at 540-671-5871 and Kimberly Knight at 540-683-9846.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com