December 26, 2012

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Christmas soup kitchen a tradition for volunteers in Wawarsing

ELLENVILLE – Some family’s only think about themselves on Christmas Day: shopping for gifts, holiday treats and all the ingredients they need for their family feast. This is not the case in Wawarsing.

For 10 years, Family of Ellenville, part of Family of Woodstock, has taken the reservations of needy individuals and families for a free turkey dinner delivered to their home on Christmas Day.

Volunteers work Christmas Eve and Day to fill the orders. Flyers are distributed to churches and stores and emails are sent throughout the community. Over 500 people get fed quickly and efficiently in a home delivery system instead of sit down meals originally designed at the Aroma Thyme Bistro in Ellenville.

The meals go out to people with no questions asked throughout Wawarsing as well as Kerhonkson, Pine Bush and Wurtsboro.

Volunteers of all ages pitch in to make the tenth annual event a success

Heidi Stack, an accountant and owner of It’s A Cinch accounting firm, across the street for the restaurant, is used to volunteering as an EMT firefighter for the Woodbourne Fire Department. She and her husband Kevin started out as restaurant patrons and have made volunteering at the Christmas Soup Kitchen part of their family tradition.

Kevin uses skills learned in his day job in shipping logistics to run Aroma Thyme’s makeshift packing line, quickly moving the hot turkey dinners, salad, bread, soup and deserts across the table to be delivered.

Heidi’s daughter, Courtney, has been volunteering since she was three-years-old, starting out by packing salads.

“When we were five, we used to get presents and them we would come here. Now it’s just we wake up and come here in the morning,” Courtney said.

She is not the youngest working on Christmas Day instead of opening packages around the tree. The youngest child, Justin, son of Marcus and Jamie Guiliano, has been in the mix since he was eight-months-old. His older sister, Courtney has no memory of any other kind of Christmas Day for she has been helping out since she was five-years-old.

The 10 year tradition started before Chef Marcus and Jamie Guiliano opened their restaurant in Ellenville in 2002.  Jamie organizes the donations and the deliveries while Marcus mans the kitchen. The majority of the food and money to make the soup kitchen is donated by local businesses and individuals.

Jeff and Michele Exter of Winterton have volunteered for four years. Both are retired teachers who have developed a system working side by side cutting and bagging all the bread.  Jeff said along with other volunteering, helping at the soup kitchen just “fits in to what we like to do. We always do this in the morning then we go home, change and then see our friends.”

Laura Beck, a special education teacher with Orange/Ulster BOCES is a friend of the Guilianos, who has also been helping out for four years. She said before they started volunteering, they would just “celebrate with family” on Christmas Day; now they celebrate on Christmas Eve instead.

A new volunteer this year is John Mengler, 36, who is recovering from a massive heart attack with six stints and over a year of recovery time.

Mengler retired after 17 years as a volunteer with the Walker Valley Fire Department because of his illness. He said he does not remember a year that he wasn’t called to work for the fire company on Christmas Day: “I might as well give back.”

To many of these volunteer families, Christmas Day is a true day of giving; giving their time and energy to make a stranger’s Christmas better than it would be without their help.


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