Far from the whirl of last-minute Christmas shopping at the area's retail centers, a small group of volunteers on Sunday served homemade meals to anyone who showed up at a century-old social club in North Tonawanda.
By 1 p.m., the Dom Polski Club on Oliver Street already had served about 30 meals of turkey, ham and trimmings to people who came for a warm meal, to reconnect with friends or for a dose of holiday spirit. Organizers expected to serve more than 100 meals over four hours.
This was the second year for the Christmas dinner at the club, which also has put on a Thanksgiving dinner the past two years. Cathy Brachmann, the club's president, said the club started the meals because members wanted to find another way to serve the community.
"We know there's a need," Brachmann said.
Diners who stopped by on Christmas Eve said they appreciated the meal and the camaraderie.
"It's made with love," said Patti Neal, a retired Walmart greeter who lives in North Tonawanda and connected with friends old and new.
The dinner came together after more than a week of shopping and cooking by Brachmann and two other cooks – Debbie Cooper and Patty Burk – aided by others Sunday.
The club probably spent just under $200 on food, including 10 turkeys, three hams and 40 pounds of potatoes, Brachmann said.
The three volunteer cooks started their work in the kitchen last Tuesday: Mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, green beans, gravy and the meat.
Only the apple and pumpkin pies came pre-baked, Brachmann said, "Everything else is homemade."
Brachmann wasn't slowed by the cast on her right arm, a result of breaking her wrist in a fall at home on Dec. 12. She learned how to work with her left hand.
"There was no way I was canceling," Brachmann said.
Last year, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the club probably served 250 meals, Brachmann said.
"That makes me so happy, when I know we're making them happy," said Cooper, a club member for more than 30 years, who tended the club's bar as the Bills-Patriots game played on TV.
Tables along one side of the club's main hall held warming pots with the food, covered with foil, and a sea of pie slices on paper plates.
Judy Warner, a retired Canterbury Woods laundry aide from the Town of Tonawanda, was there with a former co-worker.
"It was really a wonderful event," Warner said. "And I gave a donation for them."
For Steve and Chastity Ryder, both unemployed, what the club did meant a lot for their family of five from Niagara Falls.
"The meal helps us out," said Chastity Ryder, who came with Ashlynn, 12; Orion, 8; and Manon, 3; along with Steve's father, Steven.
What did Orion like the best? "Ham, and the mashed potatoes and turkey," he said, smiling, as he tucked into his meal. "They're just missing one thing: the cranberry sauce."
Also Sunday, the Buffalo Dream Center and Hearts for the Homeless expected to serve up to 400 free lasagna dinners to people in need at the center on Lafayette Avenue.
The Rev. Eric Johns, the center's pastor, said they rented two buses to provide transportation for homeless men and women to allow them to attend the event, where organizers also provided entertainment before the meals. About 150 volunteers helped serve the meals.