HANDS host Christmas dinner to raise money for charities in Highlands

The Highlands Area Non-profit Donation Sharing (HANDS) hosted a Christmas Dinner at the Highlands Country Club on Christmas Day. All ticket sales go towards nonprofits in the Highlands area. HANDS has hosted the dinner for the past 17 years.

HANDS Director Laura Huertha, also owner of Lakeside Restaurant, said last year HANDS raised $22,000 at the Christmas Dinner that was distributed evenly throughout the nonprofits in the community. Huertha predicts raising over $25,000 this year.

From left are Dollie Swanson and Jennifer Coats volunteering at the HANDS Christmas Dinner at Highlands Country Club on Dec. 25.

Marty Rosenfield, one of the founders of HANDS along with Rick Siegel, said HANDS has put over a half a million dollars back into the community.

“When I see the generosity of all the community coming out and giving, and then it goes right back into the community,” said Rosenfield. “You look at the 50-plus nonprofits in town, it’s so great to see our efforts working.”

Volunteers bustled all over at the HANDS Christmas Dinner spending their Christmas Day to support charities in the Highlands area.

HANDS began as an idea to host a community Christmas dinner by Jan Zayer, former owner of the Main Street Inn in Highlands who said they need to organize the dinner because no restaurants in town are open on Christmas. The first Christmas Dinner that was held was a pot luck, with owners of restaurants and residents all bringing something to add to the spread. Siegel said it began as a free meal but donations were accepted. In the first year they raised $8,000 and gave $500 to 16 nonprofit organizations in Highlands.

“Since then it has grown incrementally,” said Siegel. “It grows a little bit at a time every year. We’re going to serve over 400 people today.”

Steve Mehder volunteered to work the buffet line and the HANDS Christmas Dinner and offered attendees a smorgasbord of comfort food-options perfect for the holiday at Highlands Country Club.

Dinner-goers feasted on ham, turkey, beef tenderloin, stuffing, scallop potatoes, green beans, and squash casserole. Huertha said the food is donated from August Produce, Inland Seafood, U.S. Foods, and Buckhead Meats. The desserts primarily came from one source, Martha Porter. She gets started on baking immediately after Thanksgiving, it takes her a month to finish. After a month Porter has a total of nine different types of desserts to feed 400 people, some of which include sour cream pound-cake, boiled custard, and pecan and chess pie.

“I was on the Counseling Center’s board for a long time and I felt if we receive funds from this event, we should volunteer,” said Porter. “Now, my husband and I do it every year.”

Huertha said none of this would be possible without the dedication of the many volunteers.

“Once our volunteers have done it they’re addicted,” she said. “It’s a feel-good day and at the end of the day we get off our feet and have food and wine. They come back every year and they’re amazing.”

Dollie Swanson spent her Christmas Day volunteering and enjoyed seeing everyone come together to celebrate the holiday and to help the community.

“This is such an ecumenical town,” said Swanson. “The town body works together for the good of everybody else. And all this money goes to the nonprofits in town, it’s just the best thing ever.”

Jennifer Coats also volunteered helping wherever she was needed throughout the day.

“It’s my first-time volunteering, I like it because I enjoy working for the better good,” said Coats. “Plus, we work a lot with the Highlands Food Pantry and they’re one of the ones getting money.”

Volunteer Steve Mehder was manning the dinner buffet and said he was happy to be part of the occasion.

“I like getting out, socializing, and helping out,” he said. “I think this is great, and I love the idea that it’s all going towards a worthy cause.”

Article and photos by Brian O’Shea
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