Free Beaver Falls Christmas event expected to draw 1,500

| Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

In its 20th year, the free “Christmas Day Meal for the City” sponsored by the Christian Assembly Reaching Everyone ministry in Beaver Falls keeps growing.

About 1,500 people are expected for Wednesday's event in the Beaver Falls High School cafeteria. That's 30 times the number who showed up for the first dinner in 1994.

Homemade roast turkey and baked ham dinners will be served to anyone who wants to attend. Registration is not required.

“The atmosphere is so inviting, and the people are so kind,” said Ruth Ross, 56, of Beaver Falls, who has attended dinners on her own or with friends and neighbors.

“The workers will take breaks and sit down with guests. I never encountered a grouchy person; everyone was so positive. The food was wonderful, and you weren't made to feel as though it's a handout.”

Rebecca Ficca Salopek, cofounder of the event, said many guests are seniors who come with friends. New toys and clothing will be distributed for free at the dinner.

“I never thought it would have grown like this,” Salopek said.

“We never rush people through,” said Dale Russo, pastor of the Christian Assembly of Beaver Falls, where the ministry is based. “We want them to talk and enjoy the food and music.”

Donations from individuals, businesses and churches cover expenses, Salopek said. About 20 to 30 donations are received on the day of the event, with several people bringing envelopes containing small amounts such as $5.

This year's largest donation occurred when Clearview Federal Credit Union gave $2,500 in honor of Salopek winning the credit union's Joseph C. Cirelli Community Service Award.

Christianne Gribben, Clearview's assistant vice president of marketing, said the credit union likes the impact the dinner has had on individuals.

Volunteers will be assigned 90-minute shifts. Sixty churches were represented among last year's 260 workers.

Longtime volunteer Jan Davis, 54, of Beaver Falls, enjoys passing out clothing. One young girl loved a coat so much, she smiled and gave Davis a kiss on the cheek.

“It was very cold,” Davis said. “She came in with a light coat and left with a warm one.

“I'll never forget that.”

Karen Kadilak is a freelance writer.

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