You didn't have to be homeless or broke to accept a free Christmas dinner yesterday at the United Church of Christ in Warminster. Some guests simply wanted a little company or had nowhere else to go.
At one table sat Lore Reale, 68, of Hatboro. "I lost someone very close to me just two weeks ago," she said, a companion with whom she shared Christmases, and whom she cared for when he fell ill with a heart condition.
"At least I'm not alone," she said as she looked around at five other guests at her table finishing their pumpkin pie. Across from her sat Russell Vanhart, 56, a tractor-trailer driver now on disability. "It's better than sitting home alone," he said, which is what he did for Christmas last year.
On a day that can exacerbate loneliness and intensify the pain of isolation and bereavement, about 30 guests of varying ages and walks of life enjoyed each other's presence for an hour or two.
Volunteers in red aprons helped serve turkey, ham, corn, green beans, cranberry sauce and other dishes. Partway through dinner some joined in a chorus, belting out "Silent Night" and "The 12 Days of Christmas."
The meal, from 1 to 2:30 p.m., is part of a program called Home for the Holidays that was started eight years ago.
Coordinators of this year's meal, Glenna Taylor of Warminster and Sharyn Gogel of Chalfont, bustled in and out of a small kitchen, tending to the buffet, making sure the trays were full and the green beans and corn were hot. "I've been up since a quarter to 5," said Taylor, who works as an executive assistant for a residential builder.
She said the event was started in memory of a child who had been killed in a car crash. About 50 people volunteered to help, she said. Some provided food, some cooked a turkey or ham or pie at home. Some ferried guests to the church. One assisted two blind women.
"All the food is donated," said Gogel, who works as a quality control manager for a research company. That food included nine turkeys and eight hams. What was left would be given to families who wanted to eat at home but couldn't afford a Christmas dinner.
Two volunteers, Penn State-Abington professor Robert Hoffman and wife Juliette, who works at Thomas Edison State College in Trenton, busied themselves by the kitchen sink, jumping into whatever chores came up.
The couple and their 3-year-old daughter live nearby, and while they aren't members of the church, they saw a sign for the program and decided to check it out. "We wanted to do something," said Juliette, who said volunteering here has become a family tradition.
Guests expressed thanks that so many people had donated their time and efforts.
Margrit Krinn, 73, moved from Germany to the Philadelphia area in 1957. She said it was too far to go to North Carolina to see her sister this year. "When I told my sister I was doing this, she said there would be homeless people," she said. Krinn said she told her sister that would be all right, because homeless people should enjoy company and traditional foods on Christmas, too.
Marion Heckler, 83, came in from Jenkintown. She said her daughter planned to drive down from Rhode Island for a visit but could not make it until the day after Christmas. Since her husband had recently passed away, she said, she would have ended up spending Christmas by herself.
Seated across from her was Gordon Phillips, a retired actor who declined to provide his age and said he once had some small parts on Broadway. "It's fun to be out with other people," he said. "To be alone on Christmas is not good."