NORWICH — The Bandera family will be back in Norwich this Christmas to serve up free dinners at the Norwich American Legion Post 189, located at 29 Sheldon Street. Dine in and take out meals will be available from 12 to 2 p.m. on Christmas Day.
Deliveries will also be available between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Christmas Day by calling the United Way at 211. The deadline to order deliveries is 5 p.m. on Wednesday, December 21.
This year's menu includes turkey, ham, stuffing, corn, yams, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, apple sauce, assorted desserts, homemade cookies, Chobani yogurt, Gilligan's ice cream, Byrne Dairy milk, coffee, and tea.
This year's dinner marks the fifth held in Norwich, and is made possible by a team of over 100 volunteers, according to Bandera family representative Bill Bandera.
"Norwich is awesome. I can’t tell you how wonderful the volunteers are, all the people in the community, the organizations. It’s unique that they come together so well and work so well together," he said.
"The minute I walked into the city and started knocking on doors, people responded so positively and were so encouraging. And to this day five years later they’re still just as committed, they’re still just as loyal. They want to see this thing go, like I do, as long as we have a need. They step up every year. It’s an honor and a privilege to be a part of that and watch that happen."
Last year, the team served and delivered around 700 meals, and Bandera said he anticipates serving closer to 1,000 meals this year, with an overall goal of 1,200 meals. Any leftovers at the end of the day are delivered to the Oxford Veterans Home and the food pantry at St Paul's Episcopal Church in Oxford.
"We’re meeting a goal that we put out there because we want to reach every possible person that could use a free meal, and there’s a lot of those people," he said. "If people know it’s there and they know how to obtain it — go to the Legion, get a take out, sit down, or get a delivery — we should be able to serve that many meals every year, not because we’re happy there’s that big of a need, but we’re very happy to meet a need that exists every year everywhere."
Volunteers are always needed at the Bandera Family Christmas Dinners. To sign up to volunteer, visit BanderaChristmas.com. Bandera said a volunteer schedule will be emailed to show what days, times, and roles have vacancies.
Bandera said the hundreds of meals served in Norwich are in addition to the approximately 2,500 to 2,800 meals served in Binghamton, where they've been hosting a Christmas dinner for 33 years. Plus, this year he's beginning a free dinner service in Oneonta as well.
"We’re targeting 1,200 meals there but it's hard to really figure out your first year. What they’ve done in the past, they've never gone over 400. So there’s a little bit of history there and some good volunteers there already, and I have a coordinator there," said Bandera. "So that’s my goal, is to continue to grow in that way and reach more communities."
The annual Christmas dinners are also made possible by the generosity of several area businesses and organizations, who provide in-kind donations of food items and monetary donations that allow the organization to purchase items they're short on. Bandera said this year's two biggest donors were the RC Smith Foundation and Mirabito.
Monetary donations are also accepted on BanderaChristmas.com, or by calling 607-231-0706 to send a check. Bandera said funds donated in Norwich will go directly back into the Norwich dinner, to serve the community that supported their cause.
The Bandera family Christmas dinners began in 1989, with Bill Bandera's parents, Bill and Carolyn Bandera, serving 68 free meals at the American Legion Post 80 in Binghamton. Since then, a nonprofit was born and has continued to grow, with Bandera now at the helm.
"Why wouldn't you do this if there's a need?"
More information on the free Bandera family Christmas dinners can be found on BanderaChristmas.com or by calling 607-231-0706.