Volunteers serve up hot food and holiday cheer at the Davis Food Co-op's annual Holiday Meal on Christmas Eve at the Veterans' Memorial Center. Courtesy photo

Volunteers serve up hot food and holiday cheer at the Davis Food Co-op's annual Holiday Meal on Christmas Eve at the Veterans' Memorial Center. Courtesy photo

Local News

A holiday gathering full of community

By From page A1 | December 23, 2012

Share the joy

What: Davis Food Co-op’s 27th annual Christmas Eve Holiday Meal, offering a full traditional and vegan meal

When: 4:30-6:30 p.m. Monday

Where: Veterans’ Memorial Center, 203 E. 14th St.

Admission: Free, but donations will be accepted with gratitude

It takes 150 pounds of potatoes to make 800 servings of mashed potatoes, and four people about an hour to cut them up. You need to allow at least two hours to cook and drain them, and you’ll want the better part of two cases of soy milk to mash with them.

These are the kind of calculations needed to run the Davis Food Co-op’s 27th annual Holiday Meal. Without math skills and a firm grasp of what 3 ounces of mashers looks like, we’d never get dinner on the table!

Of course, the meal isn’t about the numbers: it’s about the people. The Holiday Meal serves everyone: yes, the poor, but also students far from home, the elderly, people who can’t travel and many, many Co-op members.

It’s about the young mother, a regular Co-op shopper, who told me that she’d just gone through a rough divorce. She said it meant the world to her to have a big, warm family environment for her daughter on Christmas Eve.

It’s about the two pre-teen girls who sign up each year to decorate the room. With no particular direction, they gleefully construct a Christmas tree out of whatever comes to hand — last year, a stepladder, tissue paper and garland. (One of them raced up to me in the Co-op this summer, to introduce me to her mom and ask if she could do it again this year. Of course I said yes!)

And it’s about the dozens of vendors, suppliers and Co-op members who do whatever they think will help. It’s about Sam Marotto of UC Dining Services, who not only delivers a truck full of equipment but brings a giant box of cookies “just in case.” It’s about Greg House deciding that apples from Coco Ranch will make a nice addition. And it’s about the young man who makes us a gingerbread house each and every year.

I’ve been involved with the meal for the past 18 years. The first five years or so I fretted over every detail. The resulting lists are still a great help in planning, but the meal has now settled into a steady, predictable rhythm backed by the mantra of “No changes!” People appreciate holiday tradition, and the meal is no exception — we serve the same menu every year, although we did add cauliflower in 2008.

Planning starts around May, when we say hey to Christine Rivard with the city of Davis and reserve the space. (One year we forgot, and found that we couldn’t get into the Veterans’ Memorial Center until noon — our prep was done at Kukalaka Salsa and then carried to the Vets’ in a station wagon convoy.)

Sometime in June, chef Carolyne Short and I carry out the usual “I’ll do one more year if you will” negotiation. In early October, I hear from Bobby Coyote of Dos Coyotes, who remembers to order extra silverware for us, and his email reminds me to email Sam at UC Dining Services to confirm that big truck full of equipment.

I always think this is the year I’ll get things done in October, and I never do. This year, the days between mid-October and Thanksgiving are a turkey-shaped blur. In fact, I almost forgot to put out the volunteer sign-up book, which traditionally goes out at 7 a.m. on the first Monday after Thanksgiving. I remembered that Sunday and biked down to the store to put the book together. When I carried it to our Sunday manager, Andy Cordova, he assured me that he’d already thought of it, and was prepared to go search my computer for the file. He knew as well as I that there are always people quite literally lined up when we open to sign up for volunteer slots.

With Thanksgiving (and Halloween, and the very damp Holiday Children’s Parade) out of the way, we scramble to get the rest of the details lined up. Invitations for cooks go out, and new suggestions are celebrated. (Discovery Christian Church made our week by offering to transport all the ingredients for us — something that’s always a challenge.)

Then it’s time for the lists and numbers again. “Small” amounts of ingredients, like 17 pounds of lentils for the dressing, are pulled from bulk. Tubs of cooking utensils come out of storage and are checked off against our lists. Eighty or so volunteers are called and reminded of details.

Early on Dec. 24, everything is loaded up and moved to the Vets’, where teams of volunteers start chopping, slicing, mixing, boiling and roasting. By 4 p.m., everything should be done, and traditionally is not — yet by 4:30, some 600 people will be greeted by Co-op board president Stacie Frerichs and piling their plates with chicken, ham, lentil and bulgur dressing, mashed potatoes, vegan gravy, vegetables, cranberry sauce and Village Bakery rolls.

Sue McKinney will, as she does every year, ensure that everyone gets plenty of dessert. Ron Goldberg will arrange beautiful music. And we will all, thankfully, gratefully and happily, have dinner together.

The 27th annual Holiday Meal will serve a full traditional and vegan meal, free of charge, at the Veterans’ Memorial Center, 203 E. 14th St., from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Everyone is welcome! Donations may be made at the Davis Food Co-op, 620 G St. No further volunteers are needed this year.

— Julie Cross is marketing and education director at the Davis Food Co-op. She writes a monthly food column for The Davis Enterprise.

Julie Cross

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