Community-Powered Christmas Tradition

Volunteers Patricia Wells, left, and Denise Lingenfelter wouldn’t allow Bounty of Bethlehem to be cancelled. Photo by Megan Marascalco.

Volunteers Patricia Wells, left, and Denise Lingenfelter wouldn’t allow Bounty of Bethlehem to be cancelled. Photo by Megan Marascalco.

For more than 30 years, Christmas in Hendersonville has included the annual Christmas Day Bounty of Bethlehem, an outreach of the city’s Immaculate Conception Church which provides a free Christmas dinner to any who come to the Church’s Immaculata School on Buncombe Street. Despite reports earlier this year of a leadership crisis and doubts the event might take place, the 2015 Bounty of Bethlehem will be held as scheduled. Bold Life spoke with Denise Lingenfelter, the event’s volunteer marketing director, and Bounty of Bethlehem’s new event co-cordinator Patricia Wells, about this longstanding Hendersonville tradition kept alive by volunteer energy.

Bold Life: How long have you been involved with Bounty of Bethlehem?
Denise Lingenfelter: This is my first time on the leadership team. I only became aware of the event last year and volunteered on Christmas Day. When I heard that it may not happen this year due to a lack of leadership, I know I had to get involved. I would say this year, half of the leadership is new to the role.
Patricia Wells: I had newly relocated to Hendersonville last year and wanted to be helpful, and a friend mentioned that Bounty Of Bethlehem might need volunteers on Christmas Day. Then this year, in September, I heard the media announcement that Bounty might not happen. We all basically had the same heartfelt response: Bounty must continue. Too many lives are touched.

How did Bounty of Bethlehem get started?
DL: It’s been a Henderson County tradition since 1982. Hundreds of volunteers devote their Christmas Day to prepare and serve a delicious meal to local residents. It’s the power of community.
PW: Last year, Council on Aging and Bounty volunteers also delivered Christmas dinners to Meals on Wheels clients and to emergency personnel. There are well over a thousand community meals served each year.

What’s on the menu?
DL: A traditional Christmas dinner of turkey, ham, stuffing, potatoes, vegetables, and dessert. All homemade.

Who’s attends?
PW: Bounty Of Bethlehem is by and for the entire Henderson County community, all denominations, all individuals. It’s about service, the heart of Christmas, love in action.
DL: This year it’s broader than ever. The event is for anyone who wants to enjoy a Christmas meal with their neighbors. Our toy drive is also a critical component of this event.

Since the meals are offered free, how are the costs of covered?
DL: We rely totally on donations of goods, services, and cash. A key component is the donation of turkeys and bone-in hams by the community, and we have three days devoted to just that particular need.

And the toys?
DL: This year, aside from the three days for drop-off at the event location, we have local businesses that want to get involved and who offer drop-off locations at their places of business. Dr. Joseph Farrar and Miller’s Laundry & Cleaners are just two who have signed up and are accepting toys.

About how many volunteers does it take to mount the event? What kinds of tasks are required?
DL: The planning process takes every bit of 12 weeks to make this happen, and overall about 20 to 25 volunteers that manage fundraising, toy drives, logistics, cooking, kitchen prep, and managing the volunteers on Christmas Day. Christmas Week will see up to 100 volunteers involved wrapping toys, decorating, and prep work. And on Christmas Day, there will be over 500 volunteers working.
PW: The challenge is learning all the details of the operation and catching up as Christmas is drawing close. We’re accomplishing a great deal in setting up an infrastructure to insure the continuity of Bounty for years to come.

How can people volunteer?
DL: We’re in need of some leadership roles to be filled that would require involvement now through to Christmas Day. Those interested can go to our website’s volunteer page for more information. There’s a special Volunteer Sign-Up Day on December 5th, which is specifically for tasks needed for Christmas Day.
PW: A few leader positions are still needed, including an assistant kitchen chair to Bill Gollnick, who’s headed up the kitchen for seven years now. Santa is needed, too. Maybe bilingual?

What are some of the rewards of volunteering?’
DL: Almost everyone who volunteers once comes back year after year. We have entire families who volunteer, with some of the children knowing no other way to spend Christmas Day than at the event. They have grown up knowing the joy of giving back to the community.
PW: Yes, for many families, volunteering together at Bounty becomes their Christmas tradition.

The 33rd Annual Bounty Of Bethlehem Christmas Day Dinner happens from 1-5pm at the gymnasium of Immaculata School (711 Buncombe St.). To find out how to donate or volunteer, visit thebountyofbethlehem.org or call 828-693-5115.

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