Christmas Friendship Dinner - What It’s Really About



Contributed by Josh Fryfogle

Bob Bowers ended the meeting with a heartfelt prayer, in the name of Christ, and his sincerity was palpable.

The meeting started with me showing up late. I made my apologies, and settled in to the relatively formal gathering, as Bob Bowers led the agenda according Robert’s Rules of Order.

It was a straight-forward meeting, like any you might expect for a community event, covering everything from transportation to the to-go containers used for the meals that are sent out to home-bound folks on Christmas day.

Transportation is a big part of the success of the Christmas Friendship Dinner. I learned that First Student (the bus barn) donates four buses, fuel and drivers to transport people from all over the Mat-Su, to and from the event, which certainly contributes to the incredible attendance that the event draws. They also deliver to those who cannot attend.

The buses run all the way to Talkeetna and Sutton, and the rest of the Mat Su. (Anything that has to do with transportation, the public can call or text Christine, at 907-792-9199. She can take your info over the phone and schedule a pick up.)

Feeding 5000

They served more than 5000 meals last year, and this year they are preparing for 6000. Over 140 turkeys, 750 pounds of ham, 1200 pounds of potatoes and carrots, 30 gallons of gravy, not to mention other side items and desserts.

How to donate...

No donations at the door, except for desserts. Talking with Bob and Judy, I learned the reason for this rule. One year, early on in their effort, someone donated $20 at the door, and the poor family behind them turned and walked out, thinking that there was a cost for the meal. They went after that family and turned them around, assuring them that they were welcome. Thereafter, a rule was strictly instituted - no donations at the door.

“We try not to talk about the value of the individual donations, because one man might give $1000, while another woman might only give $10, but to the Lord, their contribution is the same,” she proclaimed with tears welling in her eyes. Any well-versed Christian will immediately reflect on the allusion to yet another Christian story, a particularly powerful parable.

Target Wellness grant from MSHF

Mat Su Health Foundation recently awarded the Christmas Friendship Dinner with a grant for new steam tables, to keep that mountain of food warm and ready for all of us neighbors to enjoy. Judy Bowers applied for that grant, and it was awarded, with this being the first year to use the new food service tables. Considering the quantity of food being served, these tables will surely add to the experience for everyone involved.

Opportunities to Volunteer!

This type of event requires an incredible cooperative effort from volunteers and organizers. I spoke with Ami Giles, volunteer coordinator, who said they need 300 volunteers to pull it off. They currently have 100, but these things seem to happen right when they’re needed, right up to the last minute. (354-6115 call to volunteer).

“We try to give all of our volunteers something they can do, no matter who they are, their age...” Judy Bowers told me. She made it a point that for many people in the community, the opportunity to volunteer, to connect with their community in a meaningful way, is what is needed most.

There has been a misunderstanding for all these years, 26 so far, that this dinner is only for the financially poor, or destitute, but really, it’s for everyone. Everyone needs something, and this event offers that fulfillment. Some folks have lost their spouses to old age, and this event fills that need, not just their bellies.



Dedication to Christ

I remembered something Bob Bowers had said, right before his prayer:

“If you’re doing things for the Lord, and not to make yourself look good, what needs to happen just happens...”

Kurt Jarmers, a faithful servant to this annual event for over 20 years, followed Bob’s statement of faith, telling about one year, when they were out of desserts, and someone showed up at the back door with hundreds of donated pies. You have to admit, it fits Christ’s M.O.!

Speaking with Bob and Judy Bowers after the meeting, amidst the hustle and bustle of the other 12 people who were at the meeting, who were now unpacking decorations for the upcoming event, I was inspired all the more by the driving sentiment behind the event.

We hear an awful lot of stereotypes perpetuated, about the hypocrisy of the Religious Right in America, not wanting government to do what Jesus would do. This narrow narrative is oft-repeated among modern sophists. In fact, this non-religious, outsiders’ perspective of American Christians, that they don’t live up to the mandate of their faith, because they don’t expect government to play a role in their religion, is itself steeped in irony - and built upon the shifting sand of their own elementary understanding of other people’s belief systems.

Those who would criticize some Christians for not wanting their government to be the vehicle of their religious beliefs, these are often the same folks who demand a separation of church and state in most other cases.

The fact is, if these modern, secular critics of religion were to actually understand the Christian concept of charity, they would also understand that Christian charity is as much about the giver as the receiver, and that the act of charity must, by design, be between the people themselves.

Anything else is something else.

Another very inspiring thing about Bob and Judy’s effort to serve, in the name of Christ. They are NOT associated with any particular religious organization. They worship daily and are not members of any group or church. They are inspiring in that their own religion is active, it is service, it is showing love for their whole community. They do not allow any group or denomination to proselytize at the annual Christmas Friendship Dinner, but the presence of Christ is fully represented throughout the event. Just another example of how they focus fervently on the mandate to serve others and love us neighbors.

No matter how one feels about Christianity, all are welcome to attend this wonderful event. But as an honest writer, I would be remiss if I did not communicate to my readers that which Bob and Judy made so abundantly clear to me. Repeatedly.

This event is inspired by a devotion to Christ, and the resulting desire to serve others.

To donate...

Visit the website:

Christmasfriendshipdinner.org

Or mail to:

Christmas Friendship Dinner

PO Box 870845

Wasilla, AK 99687

Or donate by check to the Mat Su Food Bank - please include a note of “CFD” in the memo.

Tax donation receipts available upon request.