Ad-Express and Daily Iowegian, Centerville, IA

December 26, 2012

The Christmas you don’t see

For some, the holiday is all about helping others

MARK NEWMAN
Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — Behind the scenes of a busy Christmas dinner, there’s an equally massive effort to make the day merrier — for one person, sitting home alone.  

For those without a house full of company Tuesday, the Ottumwa lodge of the Masons opened their big double doors to the community, just as they have for the last 30 years.

Chief organizer Chuck Ossing said dozens of people came to the lodge to sit side-by-side with strangers and friends, enjoying a ham dinner and some company. Yet during a day that took more than a month to plan, Ossing, who celebrates 50 years as a Mason this May, wasn’t giving a lot of orders. He was taking them.

“Where are you? What apartment? OK, he should be there in about half an hour.”

Ossing, 89, was sitting at a small table with a telephone, pen and paper. Those who were unable, for whatever reason, to get out of their home on Christmas were invited to call in an order for Christmas dinner. Most addresses requested dinner for one.

“It’s not quite noon, and we’ve sent out 450 meals,” Ossing said.

There was a serving line for people eating at the lodge. Delivery meals had a separate food line; all the meals went into Styrofoam delivery containers.

“We’ve already had our Christmas,” said Rosezelma Funk. “We set aside Christmas Day to do this every year.”

She and her sister were getting a stack of dinner trays filled by other volunteers. The meals went into blue insulated “coolers,” which work well to keep food hot.

Her sister, Bee Hamre was checking the route on the sheet they had been given. As soon as the food was stacked and sealed, they would load the blue containers into their pickup and head out to deliver and wish recipients a Merry Christmas.

“It’s so nice to see the smiles on the people’s faces when we bring their meal,” said Hamre.

Their father started the family tradition of volunteering to help those who needed it. When he passed away, the sisters said, they took up the cause. And, they added, they love doing it.

However, they weren’t the only ones making deliveries.

“We had 22 routes for delivering,” Ossing said. “Most have one or two people. It’s volunteers that make this go.”

Most people who wanted a meal delivered to their home called in before the lunch rush. A few waited until noon to call.

“That’s OK. That’s what we’re here for,” said Ossing.

Though the Masons will accept donations from diners, there’s no set amount requested, nor are there donation jars set out. There’s not even a place for diners to sign in when they arrive.

“Just come and eat,” said Ossing.

None of the people working in back or out front are getting paid. Without volunteers, he said, there would be no Christmas dinner.

“The mashed potatoes are made by one guy who’s been doing it for years. Those two ladies? They come every year and serve the pie. But when we needed to get caught up on [the delivery preparation line], they pitched in and started [plating] food.”

He’s able to man the phones because his volunteers know what they’re doing. They teach the new volunteers what to do.

“I’ve been doing this 12 years,” said Tony Fischer of Ottumwa. “I started out delivering meals, then routed meals, and for the last four years, I’ve made the potatoes.”

Most years, he’s in around 9 a.m. This year, he was a few minutes late: the sub-freezing temperatures didn’t quite agree with his pickup truck. But he made it, and for home delivery and for the dine-in crowd, he began making mashed potatoes.

“That’s my main job, but I jump in wherever I’m needed,” Fischer said. “We all pitch in.”

“It’s rewarding,” acknowledged Ossing. “It makes you feel good. I haven’t been at home for Christmas in 30 years.”