More than 900 people are expect to crowd into the Historic Ashland Armory starting at noon Sunday for the 37th annual Ashland Christmas Dinner, a humongous feast sponsored by the Ashland Christian Fellowship, with 200 volunteers from the church and community serving up 36 turkeys, 80 apple and pumpkin pies, stuffing, salad and all the usual trimmings — with lots of live music and socializing as the main event. 

The legendary repast is mostly cooked at the fellowship near the corner of Oak and Hersey streets starting at 5 in the morning and then schlepped up two blocks to the Armory, where space is donated by owner Alan DeBoer, a fellowship member. Author P.K. Hallinan, another fellowship member, and his band provide live music. Carols will be sung during the four-hour event. All are welcome, whether homeless or wealthy, says M. Kim Lewis, a main organizer of the free event. 

The event, one of the mainstay happenings of the Ashland holiday season, started in 1980 when members rented the city parks building in Lithia Park and were amazed by 250 hungry — and often lonely — celebrants who turned out, salivating for turkey and trimmings, along with some socializing.

“We do it because we believe in the words of the Bible," Lewis says, "where Jesus says ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ There’s no greater feeling than to give, in the spirit of Christ and we celebrate that gift. It’s a non-religious event, though and anyone can come.” 

The raft of volunteers will also take some 50 meals to shut-ins and to the Donald E. Lewis Senior Retirement Center. The ACF pays for two-thirds of the considerable feast, while community donations cover the rest. Any leftovers go to Food Angels. 

“The chef from Southern Oregon University is in charge of the cooking and it’s going to be very high quality cuisine, in the style of the best restaurants,” says Lewis, who notes that he gets to meet scores of old friends in a celebratory setting, people he doesn’t normally bump into.

His wife, Ginny, adds, “It’s a great gift to the community to be able to give this for so many people and make so many happy. A lot of these people don’t get smiles every day, but this brings lots of Christmas cheer.”

Church administrator Barbara Smith, who volunteered at the very first feast, says church members, only about 50 people in those days, did all the cooking and “we had no idea who would come. We were in a prayer circle and heard a knocking at the door and they asked if this is where the Christmas dinner was and they flooded in. Harry & David gave us apples and we put candles in them. Patti McCoy was playing piano. It was a very special time. It’s amazing what it’s become over the years. People love to take pie and coffee and tell stories. It’s always about feeding people both physically and emotionally.” 

Jim Fieguth, a church member and director of the feast, says it is so popular and high-spirited that many more people volunteer than can be used and “it’s all the biggest blessing.”

“Many hands make light work,” says Lewis, citing an English proverb attributed to 16th-century English writer John Heywood.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.