A snowy and icy day couldn't keep thousands from the opportunity to enjoy a hot meal and a merry Christmas.
As an organist struck the opening notes to “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” Melinda Thompson sat down with her two boys at a table in the Cox Convention Center to dig in to their turkey dinners.
Thompson's two boys, Cody, 8, and Thomas, 9, both got to choose a present to play with on Christmas Day. Cody received a basketball while Thomas decided to go with a robot toy that shoots rockets from its hand.
Thompson said she is grateful for an event like the Red Andrews Christmas Dinner, which has been providing the less fortunate with a hot meal and children with Christmas presents for the past 67 years.
“For us, this is our Christmas,” Thompson said. “The chance to get a good dinner and for my boys to get a present, it's more than I could ask for.”
More than 1,000 people lined the halls before the dinner officially started at 8:45 a.m. Christmas morning. Some volunteers had been there since the wee hours preparing enough turkey, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie for thousands, and sorting through the mountainous pile of presents for the children.
Brother and sister, Billy and Meghin Danna, said they gave up their Christmas morning to volunteer at the dinner because it felt like the right thing to do.
“We just felt like giving back,” Billy Danna said. “Around this time of year, you're definitely more aware of what you have, so it's nice giving back to others who might not have as much.”
Out in the hall, Gretchen Pace was experiencing a bit of a Christmas miracle before she set down to dinner.
Pace's dog Missy, a Chihuahua, was giving birth to puppies. The first pup was born at 6:26 a.m.; they named him Noel.
Pace said she and her sister had just lost the place they were staying because of a misunderstanding with a friend. They two currently are making their way on the streets, looking for work and trying to get back on their feet.
Pace said even though it's tough trying to feed herself and a dog, she couldn't give up on Missy.
“I rescued Missy off the streets,” she said. “I wouldn't leave her behind for anything. I'm here to take care of her as she becomes a mom.”
The dreary weather outside could do nothing to dampen the mood inside. A visit from Santa put smiles on all the kids' faces while warm food and tasty pie lifted the spirits of everyone else.
“Even if it's for just a few hours, it's nice to have a good Christmas again,” Thompson said.