by Elizabeth Budelman
Can you imagine being alone and hungry on Christmas Day? Thanks to Don Rosette, Milwaukee County, Wis., residents have a place to spend the holiday.
In 1990 Don relocated to Milwaukee for a job. He wanted to do something for his new community and noticed Milwaukee lacked something for those in need on Christmas Day. This sparked his idea for “Christmas Family Feast.”
He started the free event in an unfamiliar place knowing no one. When it came time to find a location, donors and volunteers, he just picked up the phone.
“No one said ‘no’ when I asked them to donate,” Don said, “Everything just worked out.”
His first contact was The Salvation Army of Milwaukee County. They immediately agreed to help him and the list of sponsors grew from there, including Sysco, Jennie-O and Sara Lee.
On December 25, 1990, the first Christmas Family Feast was held, and 3,000 people attended.
In 2017 the event drew nearly 8,500 attendees. Shelters and church feeding programs also picked up pre-plated meals to deliver to their locations. The total number of people served was nearly 24,000.
Now a Salvation Army event, the Christmas meal consists of ham, turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes, yams, green beans, dinner rolls and an assortment of desserts and beverages. The man behind the meal is Chef Bob Ilk. He has been the head chef of the program for five years, along with the late Chef Gus Kelly. A few days before the feast, Chef Bob starts the cooking process with help from dozens of volunteers.
In total, nearly 1,100 people volunteer from preparing food in the kitchen, to serving guests, to helping with registration, to providing entertainment.
In addition to food, Christmas Family Feast offers entertainment and a lot of Christmas spirit. From welcoming carolers to juggling elves to an appearance by Santa and Mrs. Claus, the day provides fun for all ages.
At the end of the feast families are given a bag of food and age appropriate toys, along with vouchers for public transportation back to their homes.
“Christmas Family Feast is one of the largest feeding programs hosted by The Salvation Army in the country on Christmas Day,” concluded Major Steve Merritt, Wisconsin and Upper Michigan divisional commander. “We are thankful for Don’s vision, leadership and the hard work of our community relations department to keep the event running year after year.”