December 25, 2012 in City

‘This is my family’: Christmas dinner for homeless

By The Spokesman-Review
Dan Pelle photoBuy this photo

Ivan Brooks, 55, asks for piece of carrot cake from Caylee Fuqua, 11, during a holiday meal at Mid-City Concerns, Dec. 25, 2012 in Spokane, Wash. Volunteers prepared some 400 meals for the event, which was open to everyone.
(Full-size photo)

For those who had nowhere else to go for Christmas, Carl Perron had a place. Perron rushed in and out of the downtown Mid-City Concerns kitchen Tuesday to serve a Christmas meal for seniors and Spokane’s homeless.

“This young man has a tremendous background,” said Matthew “Pops” Bolar. “Every holiday he contributes and he takes it out of his pocket. That’s the crazy part.”

He once gave away the shoes off his feet, said volunteer Ron Jemison, who remembers the moment four years ago.

“We were just getting ready to turn off the lights when a gentleman asked if I had any shoe strings. I said no, but you can go ask Carl,” Jemison said.

Now it’s a tradition. Randall Sluder, 55, who said he lost his job as a maintenance man at a downtown motel last week, was this year’s recipient of a new pair of size 11 tennis shoes.

“Oh my gosh – the soles were starting to break down and all,” Sluder said, expecting to walk a lot in the new shoes, about an hour every morning.

After organizing a warm Christmas meal each of the past 13 years, Perron doesn’t tire of the effort he makes with the help of donors and volunteers from about five local churches.

“This is my family. My mom and dad are gone,” Perron said. “I’m not sure why I’m so emotional today. Maybe I need more sleep.”

Perron estimated they served about 140 guests, who all went home with an extra plate, and about 275 more meals went out to seniors via Meals on Wheels.

There was no shortage of volunteers to handle the holiday workload. Nearly 50 showed up to help serve the exquisite meal.

One of the youngest volunteers, Trevor Tuflija, a 9-year-old who goes to Hamblen Elementary School, helped serve the meal of brisket, turkey, stuffing and scalloped potatoes.

“It’s just very nice to volunteer. Everyone is happy and likes to talk to me and laughing. They’re entertained when they talk to me,” Tuflija said. His father was cooking in the kitchen.

At the event designed like a traditional family dinner, guests came together to celebrate.

“I’m enjoying the crowd, seeing old friends I don’t get to see very often,” said Ivan Brooks, sitting with his walking stick adorned with a horse hame.

This isn’t the only Christmas cheer Brooks received on Tuesday. During his morning walk, a van pulled up beside him across from the downtown library. A “very nice fellow” opened the door and offered him a wrapped gift, Brooks said. Inside was a plaid winter shirt Brooks described as “moss green.” He tucked the present under his jacket for safekeeping.

The meal’s finale was topped off with a selection of more than 25 varieties of pie, including homemade custard and fruit pies. Some guests tried as many types as possible, but others, like Sluder, couldn’t make room for extra.

Eventually, nearly 300 pounds of brisket and 11 turkeys were consumed. Some of the extra pies found a good home with the volunteers.

Reflecting on the day, Perron said he feels blessed by the successful feast, describing it as an extension of his dining room.

“To me, that’s what Christmas is about, and I hope people have that,” Perron added.

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