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Richard Herndon remembers the best Christmas he’s ever had.
About 15 years ago, his father, Richard Herndon, spent the early part of the day at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Warsaw.
“I drove down there to help him and all of the great Knights there prepare and serve Christmas dinner,” Richard recently posted on the Warsaw Knights’ Facebook page. “I will never forget it. ... Again, the best Christmas of my life.”
Ron Mackenberg traveled out of state with his wife one Christmas to visit family and didn’t get to help with the Warsaw dinner.
“We missed being there to see the joy of the community coming together,” said Mr. Mackenberg. “So we stay home for Christmas now.”
Dave Grimes has spent the past six Christmas mornings at the hall, serving up food and Christmas fellowship.
“As to why we do it, all you have to do is participate in it and you get it!” said Mr. Grimes, grand knight of Knights of Columbus Jay Harris Council 8620 in Warsaw.
“There are a lot of people in this community who absolutely would go hungry or miss out on this kind of a meal on Christmas if we didn’t do this,” he said.
The Knights’ annual dinner is for people in and around Warsaw who are in need of a good meal or are simply seeking fellowship on the Lord’s birthday.
Volunteers also deliver meals to people who are homebound and to first responders who are at work on Christmas Day.
The Knights served between 350 and 400 dinners this year.
“We do the traditional holiday dinner — turkey and ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, green beans and rolls,” said Mr. Grimes.
This year, a local pianist accompanied the singing of carols, while Knights and other volunteers served up to-go packages and visited with people who were dining-in.
Mr. Grimes believes Christ is present through every step of the meal — preparation, serving, delivery, fellowship and clean-up.
“He has to be for us to be involved in all the work that it takes to get it done,” the grand knight stated.
Knights, auxiliary members, family members and volunteers from throughout the community join in the effort.
“We’ve even had people from other faiths who come because they want to help,” said Mr. Grimes.
He knows of at least one, maybe two, people who decided to become Catholic after enjoying the fellowship of the council’s Christmas dinner and its Lenten fish fry fundraisers.
“I don’t put any pressure on anyone to switch over,” he noted. “But I will entertain that conversation whenever someone leads me into it.”
The Warsaw Knights started serving the Christmas Day dinner in 1986, with help from the Knights Auxiliary and the Altar and Rosary Society of St. Ann Parish.
The guest tally was about 70 that first year and has more than quintupled since then.
“The Knights have always been about helping the less fortunate and members of the Church,” former Warsaw Grand Knight Richard Harms once stated.
“We all enjoy helping out at the dinner,” he said. “It’s like family when it comes to the Knights and building up our community. There is nothing better than helping our fellow man and family.”
Right at home
Preparations for this year’s meal commenced the morning of Dec. 20, where Knights arrived at the hall to roast a dozen turkeys and bake and slice a half-dozen hams.
“Word went out that we needed deserts,” said Mr. Grimes. “Our Auxiliary members are great about that.”
Volunteers arrived at the hall at 8 a.m. on Christmas Day to begin heating the food and setting up the tables.
Guests began arriving at 11. Serving continued until a little after 1 p.m., followed by clean-up.
Most of the Knights were home by 3 p.m.
“I’m one of the ones who works out in the dining room to make sure things are where we need to be,” said Mr. Grimes. “That means I get to visit with a lot of the people, which I really enjoy.”
Each Christmas, he and his wife welcome between 20 and 25 relatives into their home.
“About half of them come to this and help,” he noted.
He remembers seeing a Knight’s grandson come reluctantly to help with the meal one year.
“He sat down to visit with a fellow who came in leaning on a cane,” Mr. Grimes recalled. “They both left with smiles on their faces.”
Mr. Grimes lived in Poplar Bluff for 30 years before retiring to Warsaw with his wife six years ago.
“We came here and were basically starting over,” he said. “But to be honest, it’s been home since we moved in. I’ve met a great group of people with the Church and the Knights.”
The Christmas dinner seals the deal for him.
“I’m very thankful for the opportunity to be a part of this,” he said. “I want to send out a large thank you to everyone who helped make the dinner a huge success once again.”