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A Christmas meal for everybody; Family hosts feast in memory of a son

Christmas is closing in and the question hovers around  Gladys Bliss like garland: Is there going to be a free community  Christmas Dinner?

For 19 years, in memory of her son, her family has organized a free community Christmas dinner because no one should be alone on Christmas.

Yes, is her answer, but she’s not sure how much longer she can keep it up.

The family has been trying to get word out, to get more people to attend, said daughter Danielle Morem. They’ve put out many flyers: “Alone this Christmas? Come and join us for our 20th annual Christmas Day dinner” in the fellowship hall of St. Olaf Lutheran Church, 301 1st St. NW, Austin. Dinner will be served 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday, Dec. 25.

The dinner is free but the family is asking for reservations so they can adequately prepare. Call 507-437-1700 to make reservations. Transportation is also available on request.

The meal will be a traditional Christmas  dinner served with ham, turkey and all of the trimmings. It will be catered to the hall.

“We started out cooking, but it grew so much that we couldn’t keep up,” Bliss said.

In the past five years, around 300 people have attended the meal annually.

It began in memory of her son, Peter Klein, who grew up with four sisters. He died in 1998 after an accident with a dirt bike. He was 32. The family set up the dinner in his memory soon after.

His death was sudden, Bliss said, and as the holiday’s approached “it was going to be very difficult.”

With the help of some volunteers, Bliss’s family — her four daughters and sons-in-law and grandchildren — put the dinner on as their Christmas tradition.

They will accept help of people who want to volunteer.

“Oh my yes,” she said. “There is always plenty to do.”

The dinner is served cafeteria style, and as diners finish, volunteers clean tables and dishes for the ensuing rounds.

The dishwashers — usually sons in law and  grandsons — “have a good time during the day. It’s best I don’t go back there,” she said.

Volunteers are especially appreciated during the cleanup after dinner.

A special memory for her came in the early years of the dinner when her son’s high school friends came to help.

Although the dinner is now catered, the family has a tradition of making desserts in the days leading up to the meal. Bliss said her daughters have told her that they have that covered, but diners will know if the matriarch made a dessert anyway. Bliss likes to make an angel food cake with blueberry over the top. Personally, she doesn’t like it, she said, but it’s always a hit so she keeps making it.