George Stout remembers when the Elks first began serving Christmas dinners back in 1963.
“I was a member,” Stout said. “We didn’t deliver then. That was at the old Elks Lodge on 15th Street. They’d get on a ham radio and announce the dinner was available for free.”
Elks trustees voted to do the dinner to help the homeless and shut-ins in the community. They fed 28 that first Christmas dinner, said Mark Ison, who has been part of the event now for 33 years.
Ison found some information about the first dinner in some old minutes. They provided two turkeys, two big orders of mashed potatoes and corn, green beans and a dessert.
The tradition has carried on for 50 years with more than 1,400 in the community being served a hot meal on Christmas Day. Several hundred meals were delivered to those who either have no transportation or are shut-in because of illnesses. The dinners went throughout the greater Ashland area, including Catlettsburg and Westwood.
Preparing meals of this magnitude requires a large prep team. The Elks members and other volunteers from the community who were working gave up their Christmas morning to provide for others.
“It’s probably been 20 years since I’ve had a Christmas with my family at home,” Ison said. “My family understands. They say ‘Mark will be here sometime after 3.’ A lot of these others in here are the same way.”
Elk member Chuck Riggs, for instance, has been working it for 37 years. Retired firefighter Joey Baer, Tom Phipps and Carson Elswick are other “veterans” in the kitchen. Phipps and Elswick man the mashed potato station.
“Everybody knows what to do,” Ison said. “It runs like a fine-oiled machine. I couldn’t ask for better help.”
Elks members and others in the community have also been generous to provide funding for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. One member gave $1,000 for each event, Ison said. Another man provided $500 for each event. It takes about $2,600 to provide the meals. “We are maybe sometimes $200 or $300 short, but the Elks don’t mind paying that,” Ison said. “We do this as a service to the community.”
Several were in the Elks Lodge a little after 1 p.m. on Wednesday enjoying the meal of ham, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, corn and a roll. There were also a variety of desserts and drinks.
Nobody walked away from the table hungry, Ison said.
“You can see, it’s a good meal,” he said.
Ison said they ran out of bags to pack the to-go boxes early in the day, but the Speedway station on Winchester Avenue was ready with some help.
“They gave us a whole bunch of bags,” he said. “It was just a miscalculation on our part that we were short. But Speedway came through for us. We appreciate them.”
Stout, 84, is one of the Elks delivery team that takes orders to homes. He enjoys giving his time on the Christmas holiday.
He recalled at the first Elks dinner how they fed the Dixie Heights basketball team that was here participating in the Ashland Invitational Tournament. The Colonels fell in the first round to Harrison County.
“In the newspaper the next day the coach said it was because we fed them too much food at the Elks club,” Stout said.
Nobody was complaining about getting too much food on Wednesday. Many were leaving the lodge with smiles on their faces and food in their stomachs.
“Everybody understands what the Elks do besides this, but in these two days (Thanksgiving and Christmas) we feed about 3,000 people,” Ison said. “That just shows there’s a need for it. We’re glad to be able to help. The Elks don’t mind serving.”