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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Be Our Guest

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Saturday, December 24, 2005

Dennis LaBonte was busy with "Be Our Guest" dinner preparations on Dec. 23.
North Adams – For 50 years, two words have added holiday spirit to the Frank R. Stiles American Legion Post 125 on Dec. 25: “Dinner’s ready.”

Christmas Day 2005 will be no exception; on Dec. 23, volunteer cooks Dennis LaBonte and Lou Morin were busy inside the legion’s kitchen slicing, dicing, simmering and sautéeing a variety of ingredients destined for Sunday’s feast.

"Be Our Guest"

The pace of preparation will step up during today and LaBonte and Morin plan to be at the legion hall by about 6 a.m. Christmas morning to finish the cooking and move on to the serving chores.

“We do it because we enjoy it,” said LaBonte, who has been involved with the free community dinner for about 23 years. Morin said that he’s been a holiday meal "elf" for about 18 years, and Morin’s wife Gladys is among the dedicated volunteer crew as well.

Any area resident is welcome to join “Be Our Guest” diners and transportation may be available. The event begins at 11 a.m. and concludes at about 2 p.m., although people often start arriving at the 90 American Legion Drive post home at about 10:30 a.m., said LaBonte.

“It’s a real social thing,” he said. “We really want people to come in for dinner and you tell people this: I guarantee anyone that needs a ride a ride. If needed, I will pick them up wearing my chef’s hat and chef’s coat. And we’ll get people back home.”


Lou Morin tackles huge pots of vegetables being readied for a free Dec. 25 community feast.
LaBonte said that he’s aware that some handicapped residents face challenges when trying to attend the dinner. He attempted to secure wheel-chair accessible transportation for the dinner but “I struck out for this year,” he said.

“I’d like to see someone come up with a solution,” LaBonte said. “Meals can be delivered but the music and the fun is here.”

Nothing Like It

Post 125 past Commander and current legion Finance Officer William “Bill” Schrade has served as the dinner committee chairman for nine years.

“There’s nothing like it,” Schrade said of the dinner. “It’s so heartwarming to see all the people come in.”

The dining area was decorated by Drury High School students of teacher Patrick Boulger. By the time diners begin to arrive, the aroma of roast turkey and homemade turkey soup will fill the room, and the atmosphere will be decidedly festive. Dinner guests will greet each other enthusiastically, the Aladdin Trio will strike up the band, and at some point, Santa Claus will drop by, said LaBonte and Schrade.

Diners can expect a first course of the hearty soup followed by a dinner of sliced turkey, potatoes, stuffing, vegetables, and for dessert, pies baked by Gabriel Abbott elementary school students.

The guests won’t leave empty-handed; “brown bag meals” of a sandwich and fruit will be distributed, LaBonte said, and noted that a volunteer sandwich crew spends part of Christmas morning assembling the take-home lunches.

“That’s the big reason that we like to see people coming in,” said LaBonte. “They can enjoy the soup, the dinner, and the brown bag lunch. And there’s the singing, the socialization, the getting out.”

“You see people getting up and going from table to table, talking to people that they haven’t seen, talking and laughing,” said Schrade. “That’s what makes it worthwhile.’

LaBonte and Morin said that about 275 meals will be served at the legion and between 250-300 meals are expected to be delivered. Volunteers will tackle serving and clean-up tasks at the legion while volunteer drivers will deliver meals to those unable to attend the dinner.

“For some people, this will be the only meal of the day,” LaBonte said.

Three Days of Cooking

Post 125 funded the entire event for many years. The first year, about 47 meals were served, and when LaBonte first joined the effort, about 150 meals were served at the legion or delivered. That number has increased dramatically and entities such as Williams College and area businesses are involved in the meal. For this year’s meal, over 300 pounds of turkey is being roasted and 25 pounds each of carrots, celery, and onions are being prepared. Between 20-30 gallons of turkey soup is expected to be cooked. The preparation and cooking occurs over a three-day span, LaBonte said.

“It’s much more of a community thing,” he said. “With over 500 meals, it has to be.”

Participation has become generational; Schrade said that his 12-year-old daughter Carly has been helping out since she was four years old.

“And my other three children come in on Christmas Day,” Schrade said.

LaBonte said that the meal preparations and holiday dinner have become his holiday traditions.

“I can tell you who is going to come in and if they don’t, I worry,” he said.

A Place to Share A Holiday

And as much as the volunteers enjoy preparing, serving and hosting the meal, under the right circumstances, the group would forgo the event, LaBonte and Schrade said.

William "Bill" Schrade has been chairman of the "Be Our Guest" dinner committee for nine years.


“We do this so that people have somewhere to go to share the holiday,” LaBonte said. “One year, the count was down and I was so happy, because it meant that people had someplace to go, family or friends to spend the day with.”

“We love doing this,” said Schrade. “But we’ve talked about it and we know it would be a good thing to see the count go down, to know that people had somewhere to go for the holiday.”

“That would be kind of a holiday miracle, to not have the need.”

Those who would like a ride to the Be Our Guest dinner may call 413-664-9004.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.
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