GILFORD — For the last decade and a half the congregation of the First United Methodist Church has been putting on a free meal on Christmas day.
It all started because one family at the church lost a part of their own Christmas tradition. For many years the Keysar family of Laconia had spent their Christmas afternoon serving dinner at Patrick's Restaurant in Gilford. The Keysars were a small family and had found that the holiday ended early for them and wanted a way to give something back to the local community and in an effort to extend their own celebration began working the community meal at Patrick's. After several years the restaurant was sold and the meal stopped.
For a couple of years Mac and Maude Keysar and their daughter Jessica Alward didn't know what to do with themselves and Christmas didn't feel complete. Having done some catering and a whole lot of church suppers they decided that if their home church would support them they would take up the reins of the meal themselves.
This year marks nearly 2 decades of that dinner. Mac and Maude have both passed away now but Alward and her family are keeping the tradition alive.
Every year the doors of the church open at noon for fellowship, carols and appetizers. At 1 p.m. a complete ham dinner is laid out in the church fellowship hall. It is a holiday feast done right with all the trimmings. Linen table cloths, festive centerpieces and fine foods to fill the belly including homemade pies. "We have been lucky to have such a great home church with a super facility that allows us to put on such a bigger dinner." Alward says.
Alward, now married and mom to two boys is quick to say that it takes a lot of help from the community to put on the meal. "Every year we get folks from all over the local area that come and help us make this meal possible. They work in shifts on Christmas Eve to set up and prep food, two shifts on Christmas day, one to serve the meal and one to clean up. I don't know what I would do without these helpers."
She and her crew fed just over 200 last year and she anticipates an even bigger turnout this year. "People come back year after year. Some come so they won't be lonely on the holiday and others come because they just don't have enough food or money. Times are hard right now."