After being canceled in early November, the Red Andrews Christmas Dinner was saved by the determination of a few to keep one of Oklahoma City's longest-running holiday traditions alive.
Established in the 1940s, the dinner started small. Red Andrews, a state legislator and local boxing promoter, paid for the first dinner out his own pocket when he invited 12 people off the street to eat with him on Christmas.
Now the dinner, which will be at the Cox Convention Center from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday, feeds upward of 6,000 in need.
For a while this year, it looked as if the dinner would not happen. This led to the formation of a nonprofit foundation to keep tradition alive.
Attorney Robert Goldman, who has been involved with the dinner for 25 years, became chairman of the foundation. Fellow attorney John Yoeckel, Andrews' nephew Larry Cassil and Andrews' niece Betty McCord, who organized the dinners for 35 years, are serving on the board.
Goldman said the dinner not only provides warm Christmas food, it also has been a chance for thousands of children to get a free toy on Christmas.
“We now see what a tremendous undertaking this dinner is,” Goldman said. “Even with all the community support we have and all of those that have gotten involved, it's been tough. But the stories that we've heard from those involved and the thank-yous we have gotten from people who are so grateful, it's absolutely worth it.”
Yoeckel said volunteering for the dinner is one of the most rewarding experiences he's ever had.
“A lot of people have lent a hand,” Yoeckel said. “I would guess historically we get 500 to 1,000 volunteers each year, and it's a wonderful way to spend Christmas. We serve from the time we open the doors until the last person is served. No one leaves hungry”
Goldman said the feeling of giving back and serving food for those less fortunate is what the holiday season is all about for him.
“It doesn't take long for you to catch the fever when you go down there,” he said. “It's not just important to the people we are serving, but also to the community. We heard the community's message loud and clear, ‘This dinner should not go away.'”
Gary Goldman, Robert Goldman's nephew, is in charge of the food at the dinner this year.
He said the goal of the dinner is to make it feel like a traditional Christmas dinner at home, but with a few thousand more guests.
“Not only are they getting fed,” he said. “They are getting fed the same food that you would get at your home. They are getting turkey and fresh-made gravy and fresh dinner rolls and a choice of pecan or pumpkin pie with whipped cream. ... We place a great impact on the quality of food to make it a quality experience.”
Event organizers said they are still looking for toys to give to kids, and they also need more volunteers.
“We are just a small part of this deal, and we don't need to be known as the group who saved the dinner,” Robert Goldman said. “People just want to give back to the community, and that's what the Christmas spirit is all about.”