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Patrick Springer, Published December 25 2010

Christmas Eve meal an annual ‘miracle’

Anyone who has hosted Christmas dinner can relate to volunteers who planned to serve turkey and trimmings for 1,500 guests.

That’s the number of meals that Fargo’s Nativity Catholic Church and Olivet Lutheran Church prepared jointly Friday for their annual Christmas Eve community meals.

The logistics are daunting, but the two neighboring churches have lots of practice and collective wisdom handed down through the years.

The tradition of the Christmas Eve meal for the lonely or needy started 41 years ago at Nativity, with Olivet joining 20 or 25 years ago.

“It started small,” said Bob Overman, a parishioner at Nativity who has volunteered as a cook for almost 30 years. “There’s a big file that’s passed on.”

Now a retired engineer, Overman got started when he was a Boy Scout leader and was looking for a community service project for his troop.

What’s kept him coming back?

“I have the time off, and it’s good to see all the people get together to make this happen,” he said. “All the people caring and people enjoying.”

Zana McKelvey, one of the organizers of this year’s meal at Olivet, couldn’t resist the chance to serve.

“We’ve got a volunteer coordinator that I can’t say no to,” she said. One of three coordinators at Olivet, McKelvey said their husbands are helpers. “They do what we tell them to, but the three of us do the work.”

Both congregations served guests in their churches. Nativity also delivered meals to shut-ins, and Olivet also served meals at the Churches United for the Homeless shelter.

All kinds of people show up for the meal, McKelvey said. Anyone who has no place to go for a Christmas dinner, or anyone who is in need, is welcome at the two churches.

“It’s a huge cross-section of people,” McKelvey said. “Huge.”

Olivet planned to serve 700, she said. A few blocks away, Nativity was preparing for 600, plus 200 meals to go, said Amy O’Connor, one of the meal co-leaders

“It’s a miracle that happens every year,” said the Rev. Jeff Sandgren, a pastor at Olivet.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522