‘Tis the season at Gannon University. Officially kicking off the holiday is the Social Work Program’s annual Christmas Dinner, which will take place 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday at the University’s Hammermill Center, located on the corner of West Seventh and Peach streets.
This year marks the 33rd annual Christmas dinner, which started in 1977.
Parris Baker, director of the social work, mortuary science and gerontology programs at the university, said the original motivation for the dinner was to connect members of the social work program with the Erie community and raise awareness for needy families in the area.
At the dinner, families will have the opportunity to enjoy a dinner free of charge, while also getting to meet members of the Gannon community and the Erie community as well.
In the past, the dinner has had anywhere from 700 to 800 guests in attendance with over 300 volunteers from both the Gannon and Erie communities. This year, the dinner is expected to bring in about 600 guests.
While the dinner is taking place in the Hammermill Center, representatives from 16 community agencies will be available for outreach programming for the dinner’s attendants. Also, representatives from CHIP, Pennsylvania’s Children’s Health Insurance Program, will be attending so families have an opportunity to register their children. Baker said CHIP typically registers anywhere from 50 to 70 children, depending on attendance.
Also, in Room 219 of the Waldron Campus Center, a children’s activities area will be hosted by members of the university’s education program.
Baker said one of the many reasons the dinner is beneficial is for the children in attendance, who will have the opportunity to interact with college students and professors on a professional level.
Another change being made to this year’s dinner is the clothing distribution. This year, no clothing will be given away at the dinner, as it is being held as a separate event at St. Patrick’s Church, located at 130 E. 4th Street, on Saturday.
The dinner is funded by the Gannon community, who Baker said has been very generous.
“Even in the state of recession we’re in, people are still giving,” Baker said.
In addition to the social work program, representatives from both the university’s criminal justice and education programs as well as representatives from different colleges in the area contribute to making the dinner possible.
Baker said the annual Christmas dinner is important because, it represents one of the principles of Catholic social teaching. “As a part of our university’s mission, we are responsible to and for every person on the planet as a part of the belief of preferential treatment for the poor,” he said.
Any leftover food or items from the dinner are giving to the Erie City Mission, located at 1023 French St.
Baker also said the dinner is an opportunity for people to meet, gather and come together as one.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for people to get together and get to know one another,” he said. “That’s why it’s open to everyone – people who meet at this dinner would have never met each other otherwise.”
Each table at the dinner is wrapped in paper, which gives children a chance to color. Coloring books, board games and card games are also placed at each table, giving the people seated there a chance to meet each other and interact. The items placed at each table are also available for the families to take with them after the dinner, if they wish.
Justine Unger, a senior social work major, said this will be her fourth year as a volunteer for the dinner.
“It’s a great opportunity to help those less fortunate than yourself,” she said. “It’s a service opportunity where you get to see the outcome of your service first hand, which makes it even more rewarding.”
Baker said that events like the Christmas dinner help remind the community of the true meaning of the holiday season.
“The Christmas dinner reminds me of what is truly important this time of year – human connection,” he said. “On a basic level, we’re giving ourselves to each other.”
The Social Work program’s annual Christmas dinner is an opportunity for the university to connect with Erie and its urban community, and is also a great opportunity for service and a chance to give back.
“When people come to this dinner, you know they aren’t coming to get a gift,” Baker said. “They come to get a chance to connect with one another. Hope, faith, love, all those terms become more meaningful. That’s what it’s all about.”
Anyone who is interested in volunteering for the dinner is asked to contact Baker at 814-871-7781 or by e-mail, at [email protected]