By Ariele Vaccaro
Now, it’s Christmas season of 2015, and Kelley can still be found in his chef coat.
“I feel pretty good now,” said Kelley. Rather than retirement, he’s thinking of the work ahead for this year’s Dec. 25 feast: turkeys to “fight with”, stuffing to make, cranberry sauce to simmer.
The 75-year-old is preparing for a busy holiday dinner, at which he’s expected to feed 8,000 guests.
And for that many, The Salvation Army is going to need a lot of volunteers. During a Tuesday press conference, the Milwaukee Co. branch announced that it’s looking for more community members to fill those roles.
Community advocate Martha Love is encouraging the Milwaukee residents to get involved.
“Being of service to your community is the greatest thing,” said Love, who coordinates the event’s volunteers.
She started helping several years ago, when the feast was only serving about 1,000 people.
Her children grew up participating in the feast, and now her grandchildren also take part.
“The holiday time presents us with a lot of tragic situations that occur,” Love said, but noted that the family feast is not an act of charity.
It’s an act of love from one Milwaukeean to another.
Kelley agrees, saying, “It’s not a racial situation, it’s not a hunger situation,” but rather, it’s a community situation.
Sponsors to the event like Director of the Design Your Future Program at Concordia University Michael Hall can attest to the sense of community at the family feast.
Hall started volunteering at the event after he left the military, where he usually worked on holidays so that others with spouses could spend the time with their loved ones.
So, for him, finding a place to help others on Christmas was a given. This year will be his seventh as a volunteer.
“The smile on the faces of the people that we feed,” said Hall. “That’s what I do it for.”
Hall looks forward to seeing a lot of the same visitors each year, friends who know him by name.
“They come in. They know me. We have a chat. We reminisce about last year,” he said.
This year, dinner guests have a lot to look forward to.
Kelley and many others will be cooking up many traditional Christmas favorites like ham, turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, green beans, sweet potatoes, and plenty of pies, cakes, and cookies.
He thinks the best communication happens over a plate of good food.
Twenty-six years after the first Christmas Family Feast, that sentiment couldn’t ring more true.
“I don’t foresee anything other than success,” said Kelley.
The 1290 AM and The Salvation Army Christmas Family Feast will take place on Dec. 25 at the Wisconsin Center, 400 W. Wisconsin Ave. Volunteers will be serving from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Interested in volunteering? Visit samilwaukee.org or call (414)302- 4300.