Free Christmas dinners delivered by volunteers from Pratt

Jennifer Stultz
Pratt Tribune
Balloons and More owner Tonja Harrison (front) takes pies into her store, along with baker and volunteer Heather Wilson, as more than 16 community members combined efforts to provide free Christmas dinners to eight family groups on December 24.

Five families from Pratt, one from Cunningham and many residents at Pratt's Hilltop Terrace Apartments were on the receiving end of free Christmas dinners last week, thanks to the generosity of Balloons and More owner Tonja Harrison, Cathy's Closet owner Cathy Abbott and a host of additional volunteers who helped cook and cater the free Christmas meals.

"It was Christmas in a box, really," Harrison said. "It was just amazing how the community wanted to help. There was so much food. All these people wanted to help, it was awesome."

Earlier this year, Harrison said she found that the best way to deal with her own anxiety over the coronavirus was to reach out and help others.

"I'm just really, really trying to help my community right now," she said. "I put together Thanksgiving meals, with a lot of other volunteers and that went well, so I wanted to do it for Christmas too."

Harrison put out a Facebook post asking for people to contact her who  might want a free Christmas dinner. Initially she had four responses and was prepared to help five families. Then she got three additional dinner requests.

"I didn't know what to do, how could I not help someone who needed this Christmas food?" she said. "Cathy Abbott stepped up and decided she could do two additional meals all herself, and then I had another two families work together to meet the other needs. It just all worked out. I am so thankful to everyone that helped."

Harrison, along with 16 other volunteers, provided 10 food items for each dinner, and table service for each request. The menu included smoked ham, a variety of pies, dinner rolls, tossed salad and dressing, deviled eggs, potatoes, 1 gallon of iced tea, cranberry salad, a veggie tray and green bean casserole.

"It was just amazing how people jumped in to help," Harrison said. "Kyle Irvin and James Kiley were my main delivery guys, and others just kept coming forward. We had the food needs covered in no time."

In keeping with health and safety precautions, Harrison said all food intake and deliveries were made by people wearing masks to stop the spread of COVID-19.

She also said the experience made her Christmas a little easier since she could not spend it as usual with her grown children who live out-of-state.

"In these coronavirus times we just need to do all we can to help each other," she said. "That's the only way we will all get through this. I just really want to help people."

Finding time to help others, especially during busy commercial seasons, might seem difficult, but Harrison said helping others makes all the work worthwhile.

"Once we hit January 15 we will be working non-stop, seven days a week, to get ready for Valentine's Day," she said. "We are glad to get through Christmas, though I am never complaining about too much work. Serving up those Christmas meals was one of the highlights of my year."

Christmas, Valentines Day and the Super Bowl, are the busiest seasons for Balloons and More, Harrison said. She and co-worker Margo Roberts plan to take January 1 and 2 off from the store to recoup and get ready for what comes next. She said they would likely be ready to try offering more free meals for Easter 2021.