People poured through the doors Thursday night at Blue Mountain Community College to enjoy a traditional Christmas dinner of turkey, mashed potatoes, dressing, green beans and pie.
The crowd reflected a cross section of the community with babies as young as several weeks to seniors enjoying the camaraderie that comes from communal dining and visiting with neighbors, said Karen Hill, BMCC director of public information and alumni affairs.
Of the 490 meals served, 125 were delivered to shut-ins or given out in dinner boxes to attendees so they would have a second meal over the holiday weekend. The effort is coordinated by the Associated Student Government, with veteran head cook, Jon Spilker keeping order in the kitchen.
The high point for many, Hill said, was the visit by Santa Claus. Children received gifts and adults got gift cards.
"For many people this is their only holiday meal and gift. It warms my heart that we're able to do this," said one student volunteer.
Tim Mabry was one of more than 70 volunteers who cooked and served the dinner and helped St. Nick pass out gifts. The Hermiston man is credited with starting the event. He was the BMCC Associated Student Government president in 1970 when the first Christmas Eve dinner was planned because BMCC students wanted to give back to the community.
And give back they did - now in its 39th year, the ASG spends about $7,000 on food and toys and receives back about $4,500 in donations from the community. Transportation to bring people to the dinner and to deliver meals was provided by Mid-Columbia Bus Company.