The many volunteers who had be used to helping with the Red Andrews Christmas Dinner at the Cox Convention Center on Christmas Day spent Christmas Even instead handing out food kits and toys.
Cinthya Allen and her two daughters, Isabella and Victoria (feature photo) were helping hand out toys early in the morning in a parking lot in Bricktown, one of five locations where the volunteers who usually help in one place were helping in several.
“So, we typically volunteer at the city rescue mission. But with the COVID situation. This was another opportunity to help and so we were just so happy to be here,” Allen told Free Press.
A middle school teacher at Dove Middle School, Harrison Fulkerson, was at the Bricktown location early with his dad and the rest of his family who have helped every year with the Red Andrews Dinner.
Why was he there?
“It’s a family affair every year,” ,” Fulkerson said. “It’s been like that for the past ten years. And so, we came here just to spread good cheer, and hopefully help some people out.”
Adjusting to circumstances
The dinner that has been a charitable tradition in Oklahoma City for many decades and had found a good grove at the Cox Center had two big changes to deal with this year.
First, the Cox Center has sold to a film production company and so was not available for the meal and toy giveaway that typically serves 7,000 people.
Second, the raging, red-level pandemic in Oklahoma made it too risky to try and serve food to a large crowd.
And so, this year, the Red Andrews Dinner volunteers and several other groups collaborated on multiple locations to give out toys, food kits that would allow people to prepare a Christmas Dinner in their home, and in limited situations, food bags that people could eat on their own without having to cook.
See our report from Wednesday about the plans:
Debbie McDonald with the City Rescue Mission was at the Bricktown toy giveaway where her organization helped to round up around 15-20 volunteers for the that location.
She said that their organization gets a number of toys donated each Christmas to give to the people who they help. They saw that they were going to have more than they could hand out there and so collaborated with the Red Andrews Dinner volunteers to put together the Bricktown toy give-away.
Mary Blankenship Pointer was in the mix at the Bricktown location. She has been volunteering for the Red Andrews Christmas Dinner for the last 34 years.
How did she get involved?
Some people at the bank where she worked 34 years ago recruited her to help and she has been doing it since eventually moving into one of the key roles for the dinner.
But, this year had some big twists in it that made them rethink what they were going to do.
“In June, we started making plans,” she told us. “We knew that we couldn’t have it indoors. So, first we thought we would probably go to satellite locations. But, then the numbers they were estimating kept increasing.”
So, the plan they worked Wednesday and Thursday was what they came up with.
At the first location Wednesday afternoon at St. James Catholic Church on the south side Pointer said they had enough toys and food for 2,000 and planned to go from 1:00 until 3:00.
She said they ran out of food and toys and had to close early with 150 cars still left in line.
However, Thursday at Bricktown and at First Baptist Church where we visited, volunteers were ramping up their efforts to round up as many supplies as they could in an effort to not have the same thing happen.
Four locations were planned for the day and were expected to come close to meeting the demand.
More need than ever
At the First Baptist Church location that started up a little later in the morning Thursday, cars were lined up down the street just as they were in Bricktown.
Food kits were being handed out as well as toys and a pickup of more toys arrived when we were there.
The Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church, Sarah Stewart, took a few minutes to visit with us about what it meant to the congregation to be one of the locations for the Red Andrews organization.
She said that being able to provide one of the locations on Christmas Even was “a wonderful blessing” for the congregation.
“Our church has cared about this city for years and years and we serve every week through Care for OKC. So, to have the opportunity to partner with Red Andrews [Dinner] is a huge blessing for our church.”
Steward said she is seeing a rapidly-increasing need right now in the population at large. The church has a regular weekly food give-away supplied by the Regional Food Bank.
“It’s a harder year than ever before,” Steward said. “For the last nine months, we’ve gotten more and more calls and more and more people needing help. And so this year, I think more people need toys for their kids and food for their families for Christmas.”
“It’s an incredibly difficult year. People are strained financially and strained emotionally.”
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