American Legion Post 125: "Be Our Guest"By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Saturday, December 23, 2006
North Adams - For Dennis Labonte, it's all about the meals.
|Dennis Labonte shows just a few of the turkeys that will be roasted for the Frank R. Stiles American Legion Post 125 Dec. 25 "Be Our Guest" dinner.|
Beginning today, Labonte and a volunteer crew including Lou Morin, Bob McConnell, Ernest "Babe" Lussier, William Schrade, Dennis St. Pierre and dozens of others plan to initiate the preparation, cooking, delivery and serving of the 51st Frank R. Stiles American Legion Post 125 "Be Our Guest" dinner.
"We'd Like To Keep It That Way"
This year marks Labonte's 24th as a dinner chef, and he is interested in hearing from individuals who are willing to keep the holiday dinner tradition going.
Labonte said he believes he will continue to spend his holiday preparing the dinner for the next few years -"I wouldn't do anything else" - but once he retires from his culinary position at Williams College, "things may be different."
The hall was decorated by Drury High School students.
"I do wish that there was somebody younger interested in this that I could train," he said. "This is the 'Be Our Guest" dinner and we'd like to keep it that way."
Learned From The Best
Labonte learned the finer points of the meal preparation under the tutelage of George Heisler, he said. After Heisler's death, Labonte worked with other volunteers, including Joseph Cariddi.
"And Barbara Shea, she was unbelievable," Labonte said. "She [roasted] all the turkeys at her house for years."
The free meal is served on Christmas Day at the legion hall on American Legion Drive. The dinner is open to the public and seating begins at 11 a.m.; earlier in the day, volunteers are expected to deliver about 300 meals. Recipients include on-duty police officers, firefighters, EMTs, and those who are unable to leave their homes.
There is limit to meal delivery, Labonte said.
"We do not deliver to drinking establishments."
Community Contributions Add To The Day
On Dec. 22, students of Drury High School art teacher Patrick Boulger decorated the dining area. Tables were draped with red and green coverings, windows were adorned with clear or multi-colored light swags, and an array of painted, wooden ornaments surrounded a brightly-lit tree or graced dining tables as centerpieces.
Labonte estimated that about 600 meals will be served at the legion and about 300 will be delivered.
Williams College donated all the turkeys to be used for the meal, Labonte said. About 20 25-pound birds and another 10 that range between 14 and 20 pounds are expected to be cooked, he said. The legion meal includes a first course of soup, a turkey dinner with potatoes and vegetables, and a dessert. The dessert pies were baked by Gabriel Abbott elementary school students. The school is in Florida, Mass..
Labonte encouraged people to make the trip to the legion for the meal. Each diner is sent home with a brown-bag-style sandwich meal and the festivities include musical entertainment provided by a locally-popular band, "The Aladdins."
A meal tradition is that the Post 125 commander acts as host; this year, Post 125 Commander Thomas Lussier has the honor, Labonte said.
The event cost was covered by Post 125 for many years, Labonte said.
"As the cost of things went up, we had to solicit, we had to," he said.
But as costs have increased, so has the volunteer commitment of many Northern Berkshire residents, Labonte said.
Happy To Do Anything At All
"The people of Northern Berkshire are wonderful, really wonderful," he said. "People volunteer to make deliveries, people come here and serve, people come down on Christmas Day and they are happy to do anything, anything at all. This is why I say the people of Northern Berkshire are wonderful."
"I have a good crew in the kitchen and what I like is that we can mingle with people," he continued. "And this isn't just for people who have no place else to go, people come here because they love it, they see people they haven't seen in a long time. We've had friendships form because people got together here."
The best way to understand the impact of the "Be Our Guest" event is through experience, Labonte said.
"People who've never been here, who've never had the meal, well, they just don't know how much fun, how special, it is."
Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 413-663-3384 ext. 29.