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Full stomachs, hearts at Sebastopol holiday feast

Mario Solano feeds his son Mario Jr. during the holiday dinner at the Community Church of Sebastopol on Tuesday. The event , sponsored by the Rotary Club of Sebastopol Sunrise, is in its ninth year of providing free food, clothes and toys.

CHRISTOPHER CHUNG / PD
Published: Tuesday, December 25, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, December 25, 2012 at 10:50 p.m.

Sixty turkeys, 30 pies, heaps of mashed potatoes and hundreds of smiles filled tables Tuesday at the Community Church of Sebastopol.

As a steady rain soaked the earth and slickened roads, members of the Rotary Club of Sebastopol Sunrise served about 500 free hot meals for their 9th annual Community Holiday Dinner, held at the church north of town on Gravenstein Highway.

People peeled off raincoats and closed umbrellas at the door. Some arrived to get out of the rain for a rare warm meal. Others helped their children choose a new toy from thousands heaped on tables.

Many more arrived simply for the camaraderie evident at tables filled with family, strangers and friends.

“They share gifts and food and clothing, God bless them,” said Dee Baldwin, 72, of Sebastopol, who tucked into a plate of food with a package of toy cars she chose for her great-grandson on her lap.

The annual event provides free meals for the homeless and anyone else who might not have a place to go or family nearby.

“Mr. Music,” a performer also known as Jim Corbett of Sebastopol, led a chorus of Christmas carolers on his keyboard at the front of the room.

Behind them, people looked through racks of coats and sweaters. The group also gave away about 3,000 toys, most donated by the Graton Fire Protection District.

Volunteers in red-and-white Santa Claus hats bounced around the room clearing tables.

In the kitchen, Rotarian Michael McGlothlin, a Sebastopol resident retired from a travel agency, led a turkey carving assembly line with Underwood Bar and Bistro sous chef Sean Kelley, 32, and his friend and fellow cook Zack Ghidotti, 26, of Sebastopol.

“I do this every year,” Kelley said.

“It gets bigger every year, it's awesome,” McGlouthlin said.

With a nozzle in one hand, Sue Ungewitter, 73, of Cotati sprayed plates clean and loaded them into a dishwasher at a good clip.

“What more could you want out of Christmas than giving back to the community? What more could there be?” said Ungewitter, who owns Sue's Circuit fitness on Highway 116 south of town.

The meal provided a respite of holiday spirit for busy parents.

With overnight shifts at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital Christmas Eve and Christmas night, certified nursing assistant Chenda Lim, 33, had only a few hours between shifts to spend with her two children and two nephews, ages 8 to 14.

“I work at night, so this is great,” said Lim, standing with her family in a long line for the food. “I get the kids out of the house, I don't have to cook.”

“Christmas is usually hectic, but we are very fortunate,” said her boyfriend Don Young, 26, also a certified nursing assistant at Memorial.

Seated at a long rectangular table, Maxine Hlavac, 87, of Sebastopol came to the holiday meal after celebrating a quiet Christmas Eve at home alone. Her sons live out of town and will arrive for a visit Thursday.

“My husband died in 1968,” Hlavac said. “Christmas doesn't seem the same since then, and that was 40 years ago.”

A nearby dinner companion waved for Hlavac to look behind her at a volunteer with a blinking elf hat.

Hlavac turned and giggled, “Wonderful.”

(You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220, julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com or on Twitter @jjpressdem.)

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