JANESVILLE

Every year, The Gazette attends the ECHO Christmas dinner.

And every year, the story is the same: The volunteers were happy to help, and the diners enjoyed good food, good music and good company.

ECHO, Janesville’s church-supported food pantry and social services agency, celebrated another Christmas dinner at St. William School on Tuesday. And guess what? The volunteers were cheerful as ever, and the diners enjoyed good food, good music and good company.

This year, we would like to give you an idea of what it was like to put the meal together. Think of it as the ECHO dinner meets “The 12 Days of Christmas”—but without the partridge in a pear tree, the golden rings or the lords a-leaping:

150

The number of volunteers who gave up a significant portion of their Christmas Day to cook, serve, deliver and clean up after a meal for between 400 and 500 people.

8

Number of gingerbread house centerpieces built by sixth-grade students at St. William School. The dinner has been held at St. William for years, but it also has been held at St. Mary’s, New Life Assembly of God and First Lutheran Church. The meal was started in 1972, according to The Gazette’s archives. In the early years, between 75 and 100 people came every year.

6 a.m.

The time meal chefs Josh Stinnett and Jon Gordon arrived. They started their day by cooking themselves steak and eggs for breakfast and “singing between bites,” according to one volunteer.

Stinnett has been helping prepare the Christmas meal for 12 years. He started when he was in the culinary arts program at Blackhawk Technical College.

Or rather, he was “volun-told” to help with the meal. He’s been back every year since then.

Gordon, who is also the chef at the Salvation Army’s Thanksgiving dinner, has been working at both meals for 20-plus years.

7

Number of loaves Jesus and his disciples used to feed 4,000 followers in the gospels of Matthew and Mark. For the ECHO Christmas dinner, 600 dinner rolls were ordered.

Other items needed to feed the local multitude included:

  • 44 12-pound turkeys prepared by culinary arts students at BTC.
  • 100 pounds of ham prepared by Best Events.
  • 45 pounds of jellied cranberry sauce.
  • About 8 gallons of chicken broth.
  • 12 55-ounce packages of stuffing.
  • 90 pies.

4

Number of Kind siblings—yes, that is really their last name—who came from Fort Atkinson to help. Signe, Mikayla, Austin and Brendan Kind have been volunteers at the meal for four or five years, the girls estimated. The story of why a Fort Atkinson family started volunteering is Janesville is a complicated, six-degrees-of-separation kind of thing, but the siblings so enjoyed themselves the first year that it has become a family tradition.

Why do they volunteer their time on Christmas morning?

“To give back—that’s what our parents taught us to do,” Mikayla said.

3

Number of keys hanging from Santa’s belt. Although he had a long night, Santa showed up to the ECHO Christmas meal.

“Peace on Earth, and I hope everyone has a happy and healthy New Year,” Santa said.

As for the keys, one was for the reindeer stable, the second was a “magical chimney expander” and the last was a skeleton key for the front doors of homes with no chimneys.

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