A sense of community through religious partnerships

Monroe Temple again prepares and serves as many as 200 dinners at Our Father's Kitchen on Christmas Day


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Photos



  • Photos provided Santa and his elves relax in this 2016 photo at Our Father's Kitchen at Sacred Heart Chapel in Monroe, in between dinner seatings for Christmas dinner prepared by Monroe Temple volunteers. He'll be back on Christmas day to see dinner guests and bring presents.




  • Table settings such as this one in 2016 are made by Girl Scout troops and other groups wanting to be a part of the effort.




By Nancy Kriz

— Though they'll tell you it seems like the first dinner was just only yesterday, Monroe Temple volunteers are certain the ninth Christmas dinner they will prepare and serve to the needy or those without a place to go on Monday again provides a delicious hot meal and reaffirms two equally important things.

One of them is the sense of community that organized religion can provide.

And, the second is the importance of the community partnership between Jewish and Christian faith groups.

A year-round effortOur Father's Kitchen, a program of the Sacred Heart Parish Outreach Program, has been providing hot weekly meals for years to those in need. Known throughout the community for its compassionate work, the kitchen receives donations of all kinds from businesses, individuals and groups looking to support the cause as part of their realization that, yes, in this day and age there are people who still go hungry.

For the last nine Christmases, Monroe Temple volunteers happily plan a special meal to prepare and serve OFK patrons, giving their Christian colleagues "the day off" to spend Christmas with their families.

"Every year since Our Father's Kitchen opened, volunteers from the Monroe Temple of Liberal Judaism have committed to making a memorable Christmas dinner for our guests," said Betsy Utnick, who chairs the planning. " What many may not realize is that the temple's support of OFK is ongoing throughout the year. We are quite proud of the working relationship we have developed with our friends at Sacred Heart through the years, as well as our efforts to keep the shelves of our local food pantries full."

Volunteers and contributionsUtnick stressed the dinner's success is due to the multitude of temple volunteers who want to be part of something so worthwhile.

"Much thanks go to our corps of volunteers that puts it all together and executes their duties like a well- oiled machine," Utnick said. "We couldn't do it without you. As the organizer, I have a somewhat unique perspective, as I watch the day unfold, observing families working with members of their families to help other families and members of our community with sincerity and love. It's a day when young and old and everyone in between work together for the common good."

Chef Sam Turk is finalizing plans for his Christmas dinner, made possible through corporate donations from places like Restaurant Depot, community donations and special desserts provided for the last nine years by Congregation Eitz Chaim in Monroe.

Santa, who by then will have completed his annual worldwide trek, will be stopping by for a visit with his elves before returning to the North Pole, saving the last of his gifts for dinner patrons.

"Plaza Optical has donated an assortment of hats and gloves and our Monroe Temple's Women's Organization has prepared and donated gift bags with toiletries and personal care items guaranteed to make anyone smile," said Utnick. "In short, no one will leave empty handed."

Organizers are planning for 200 diners, and while reservations are requested, no one will be turned away.

Challenges do not subsideUtnick said temple volunteers do see the same people returning year after year, a recognition that financial challenges or just sheer loneliness don't subside.

At the same time, hosting a dinner for nine years does include realizing that some people can't attend anymore.

"What's the paradox of chairing an event such as this for so many years?" Utnick said. "The sadness that comes when I think of those guests who have joined us yearly, that will not be able to join us this year for health reasons. It is with sincerity that I say we carry you all in our hearts and prayers, your presence will be missed on Christmas Day."

Christmas dinner will be served at Sacred Heart Chapel beginning at 1 p.m., with the last official seating at 3 p.m. To make a reservation, call 782-8510.



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