All are welcome and all are needed, Cleburne Christmas Day Feast organizers Michelle Moralez and Fernando Rodriguez said.
The feast returns for the seventh year running from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 25 at the Cleburne Senior Center, 1501 W. Henderson St. behind the Cleburne Conference Center.
“It was hard to lose our downtown location,” Moralez said. “But the senior center has more room.”
The location used the past several years, one of Rodriguez’ downtown buildings, is being remodeled for a restaurant.
The purpose of the day is to offer a free Christmas dinner of turkey, dressing and all the trimmings — not to mention dessert and other food options — to all comers.
“We feed anyone who walks in the door,” Moralez said. “We don’t ask for identification, don’t ask where you live. If you walk in we’re going to feed you.”
Moralez admits that she briefly considered canceling this year’s event.
“It’s been a hard year,” Moralez said. “Been a whole year of loss in my family where we’ve lost so many people in such a short time. At first I thought I didn’t know if I could do it this year because my heart hurt so bad. So I just kept praying knowing God was going to tell me what to do.
“Then I woke up one day and said, ‘You know what? There’s no reason I’m not doing this. This is what I love to do is help people.’”
Which is what it’s all about, Moralez said.
“You know, we don’t know what other peoples’ problems are,” Moralez said. “What they’re going through in this world. Everybody’s different and everybody goes through some kind of crazy at times in their lives. But Christmas is the time for asking how we can help. We have to give back in this community, give back in this world. And Christmas is the day we celebrate Jesus’ birthday so what better day to do that?”
“For me it’s an opportunity of giving,” Rodriguez said. “And whenever you get a chance to give you better take it. It’s also our opportunity to show our appreciation to those in need for whatever reasons. To show them that they do mean a lot to us. It doesn’t have to be someone we know. We’re all children of God and the main point is to take care of each other.”
Christmas dinners will also be delivered to residents who are elderly, disabled or otherwise unable to make it to the senior center, Moralez said.
“Last year we delivered to a couple and their son, who passed away four days after Christmas,” Moralez said. “They really appreciated that and we want to reach as many people as possible who are unable to get out of their house.”
Christmas, Rodriguez said, can also be the saddest day of the year for many.
“One lady [during a previous feast] told us that she woke up that morning thinking no one cared about her and thinking that God had forgotten about her,” Rodriguez said. “But she said after she came here and got to meet all the people and realize how much love the Cleburne community has that she saw the love of God through everybody there.”
Last year more people were fed than ever and more meals were delivered than ever, Moralez said. This year is expected to be bigger still.
But to carry that off, Moralez said, volunteers are needed. The more the merrier.
“Anything you want to do to help,” Moralez said. “Whether that’s you by yourself, your family, your business, your church, whatever. We need people to help deliver meals. We need people to help serve food, help set up and clean up after. It’s been great over the years to see parents come out to help and bring their kids. Those kids get to see the true meaning of Christmas and the importance of helping others. Who knows how that inspired some of those kids to do great things for others in the future.”
Monetary donations are also needed.
“I’ve had people wanting to donate turkeys, which is wonderful,” Moralez said. “But we really can’t accept those because we have certain guidelines we have to follow in getting and preparing those. We’re using the kitchens at the Heights Church again this year and we’ve got the OK from the city to do that, which is a blessing. And the Heights have been a huge blessing and partner in this as well.
“People are welcome to bring desserts or drinks, but the rest we have. If you want to help out in the way of food it’s best to donate money.”
Santa made a surprise appearance during last year’s feast.
‘I’ve heard that he may just pop in again this year,” Rodriguez said.
Either way, the hope is to distribute toys to children attending the feast.
“Cornerstone Church called to tell me they’re having a toy drive and they plan to bring those toys to the senior center that day to give out to kids as they come in or when they’re leaving,” Moralez said.
Toy collection boxes have also been set up at two of Rodriguez’ downtown stores: Apos Boot Outlet, 110 E. Chambers St.; and Apos Western Wear, 110 N. Caddo St.
Rodriguez encouraged other local businesses to hold toy drives as well.
“The more we can get the better,” Moralez said. “It was so wonderful last year to see the kids picking out toys and books.
“There’s so much need here and, for many, this is going to be the only Christmas they get.”
Both praised the Cleburne Fire Department as well.
“They’ve been out for every feast we’ve had,” Moralez said. “They in there and help serve meals and just have a blast doing it. We also welcome any of our first responders, police officers or deputies to come out too.
“Those guys are working on Christmas day and we want them to know that they are welcome to stop in and have a meal and be part of the day.”
To volunteer, donate or inquire about meal deliveries call 817-933-8168.