Dinner to be held with pandemic friendly changes


This year, organizers will repack the annual Christmas Dinner for pandemic safety. (Contributed photos from the 2019 event.)

By Brandon Martin

The annual “Richard’s Dinner,” a meal held on Christmas Day, will still happen this year, after an alternate version of the dinner was approved by Gov. Ralph Northam.

Scott Norman, organizer for the dinner each year, said the formal name for this year’s event will be “Richard’s Ding-Dong Dash.”

Instead of dine-in guests at First Baptist Church, those looking for a hot meal may have them delivered directly to their home.

“It’s like the childhood game,” Norman said. “After you’ve ordered your food, the delivery driver will come up, sit your food down, ring your doorbell and take off. Instead of just an empty porch, the person will see a hot meal on their doorstep.”

In addition to delivery, Norman said people will be able to get food at the church in a drive-thru, manner that allows for coronavirus guidelines to be followed.

About 200 volunteers help, serving in positions that include trained kitchen staff, servers, delivery drivers and in dispatch.

“It’s not just me. We have an amazing crew of volunteers,” Norman said. “We honestly couldn’t do it without everyone chipping in, and they all do it with a smile on their face. It’s rewarding for us too. Every time we serve someone, we feel like we are the ones, being blessed.”

This year’s meal will consist of ham, turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, cranberry sauce and desserts.

Typically, desserts are donated, a tradition Norman said will continue this year.

He asks that desserts be brought to the back door at First Baptist Church on Christmas Eve between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

“All I ask is if you do come by, please follow the proper pandemic guidelines,” he said. “Don’t just walk in without wearing a mask or anything like that.”

Norman said it is hard to estimate how many meals will be provided this year, but an addition this year is a partnership with the Henry County Food Pantry, Norman said of the collaboration that will allow boxes of food to be provided to those in need.

He said each box will include about a weeks’ worth of food. Delivery may be available in limited circumstances.

The dinner itself began in the 1980’s when Stuart Axelrod and Wayne Odachowski hosted the event at their diner, Sammie’s.

“They started it because they really didn’t want anybody to be alone on Christmas,” Norman said. “That’s really the spirit of the meal each year, and I’m glad that we are able to continue in this year when more people might feel alone than normal. It’s a way for us to say we are still thinking about you.”

In the early days of the event, Richard Sarver became “the brains of the operation,” Norman said, adding that he began coordinating the dinner when Sarver stepped down.

Sarver died in 2011, but his impact was so great that the annual dinner continues to bear his name.

Norman said the dinner normally feeds around 2,500 people each year – a feat he intended to accomplish by himself this year if need be.

“I never thought for a second that we wouldn’t provide the dinner this year,” Norman said. “If it were just me standing outside alone with my grill, I still would have found a way to have the dinner.”

Those interested in receiving a meal, whether delivery or drive-thru, are asked to pre-register by calling (276) 403-9557.

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