Senior citizens get meal, companionship during 37 year tradition - KCTV5

Senior citizens get meal, companionship during 37+ year tradition

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KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -

Thirty-seven years ago one Kansas City police detective came up with the idea of having a meal for senior citizens on Christmas Day.

To date more than 50,000 meals have been served and Wednesday that tradition continued.

The Richard White Christmas dinner has grown from just a room full of holiday guests to four area locations serving nearly 1,000 free meals.

It's not a coincidence that area Chef Paul Santaularia's last name starts with the word Santa. He's a giver and Wednesday morning Santaularia started preparing meals even before the regular "Santa" completed his route.

"I don't think anybody really can't say that I can't help somebody. I don't think there's anybody that can't say that. Everybody has an opportunity to do something," he said.

Santaularia and dozens of volunteers started cooking holiday meals about 5:30 a.m. and say it's a feeling like none other.

"It's something you just can't really describe, the people, the looks on their faces, they just light up. It's just been magnificent," said volunteer John Benson.

White came up with the idea to have a meal for seniors on Christmas Day back in 1976 and every year since it's gotten bigger and bigger.

"A few years ago after worrying about the dinner I realized that this wasn't my dinner, God was doing it and I was just a worker," he said. "We fill in and we make that family for them, and it's often said we have the largest family in Kansas City."

White's goal was to make sure seniors in the Kansas City area without family have a place to come and have a Christmas meal and maybe a conversation or two as well.

"I like the people that I meet and the songs that are sung, and the message that is given," said Claudine Thomas.

It's a meal that means more than most can even imagine. For those who lost loved ones, it means a meal with friends that have become their new holiday family.

"A lot of people that come here do not have people to eat Christmas dinner with so they come here just to have someone to talk to," said Warren Thomas.

"It's just a lonely day for a lot of people otherwise and this gives them an opportunity for fellowship to make them think they are worth something," said Dean Masters.

It was dinner and companionship that 91-year-old Rosemary Wiley would not have gotten this year.

"All the family is gone, they've either died or moved away, so I'm by myself and this is such a lovely place to come," she said.

It's the same story in independence, where the Christmas meal brought hundreds of area smiles. In all, four locations all around Kansas City hosted free dinners for seniors.

"I appreciate what they have done for quite a few people who wouldn't have any place else to go or don't have close family," said Don Brayton.

White collects donations all year long to help cover the expense of the dinner. This year more than 200 people volunteered to help serve the meals.

The group also delivered more than 75 meals Wednesday to folks not able to make it to the dinner.

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