Rachael Van Horn
Woodward, Okla. —
This year's Jericho Community Christmas Dinner was the place to be Christmas morning, even before it began, said event organizer, Gregory Fraizer of Jericho Oil Field Services.
As volunteers hustled and bustled around, cooking and carrying in gifts, families wandered in, children played and the smell of roasting turkey filled the air.
"There were people here at 9:30 when I got there this morning," Fraizer said.
And the people just kept coming.
"This is a pretty big group," Fraizer said looking around the crowded Pioneer Room. "It is definitely a success, I'd say."
As the Jericho Community Christmas Dinner tradition grows over the years, so does its appeal to many community members, who see the event as a rich new tradition.
So, while the event originally began years ago as a gathering for people who found themselves without family or the means to pay for a holiday meal, it is now a place who families go to spend time together.
For the Olewinski family, the Jericho Community Christmas Dinner was a kind of celebration
The whole family, including adult children who also had families of their own, left Tucson, Ariz., a little over a year ago and moved to Woodward on the faith they would find work here, said Savannah Olewinski.
She said the move included family matriarch Leeza Oliwinski, 15-year-old Adam Olewinski, 13-year-old Joey Olewinski, 14-month-old Jayden Olewinski, 25-year old James Merideth and his wife, Theresa and their baby Ethan.
Family friend Dennis Tapia also came along to find work as well.
And the family was not disappointed when they came to Woodward.
"All of us who were looking, found jobs," Savannah Olewinski said.
"I work at Braums, James works at Crescent Services, LLC of Woodward," she said.
The Jericho Community Christmas Dinner was a place the whole family and a few friends even, could gather in a festive environment and celebrate their first year in Woodward, Savanna Olewinski said.
"I love it here," Tapia said. "Woodward is like all the best parts of Arizona all together in one place."
Tapia works for Pat McVicker's Oil Field Services and is glad to have the job, he said.
For others, the community Christmas dinner was a place to go for a visit with an old friend and a great meal.
Best friends Jane McMurphy and Beverly Richardson chatted easily in the crowded room as they enjoyed their meal. To them the packed room, children running with new toys and old friends hugging is just what the day should be about.
Both shunned staying home alone on Christmas since both have children coming to visit over the weekend, and gladly spent their day with about 300 other community members, they said.
But while most stayed at the event to enjoy the fun and singing of Christmas carols, some got food to take home to family members who can't leave the house.
Margie Patty gathered a sack full of meals to take to her own family and her husband, who has health problems that keep him home, she said.
As the meal wound down, Elise Solloway cranked up her guitar and began singing popular carols for the large crowd.
Volunteers Karen Whitcomb and Dennis Talley spared no enthusiasm in getting the crowd to sing along.
Outside the building, children ran and played on the chilly but sunlit sidewalk.
Another volunteer, Cindy Roper-Drake who has been serving at the community Christmas Dinner for more than 13 years all together, said she couldn't imagine a Christmas day any other way.
"Getting to come and do this on Christmas Day, is my Christmas present," Roper-Drake said.