COLLINSVILLE – On Christmas Eve, many people will hop out of bed early to fire up the ovens for a traditional ham with all of the trimmings. They’ll boil a pot of water for some homemade mashed potatoes and pop a pie in the oven to have just in time for a mouth-watering dessert to…
COLLINSVILLE – On Christmas Eve, many people will hop out of bed early to fire up the ovens for a traditional ham with all of the trimmings. They’ll boil a pot of water for some homemade mashed potatoes and pop a pie in the oven to have just in time for a mouth-watering dessert to end the meal.
Other families, however, will struggle to afford a pack of Ramen noodles to split between the kids.
That’s where Jennifer DeLong, the owner of SweetCakes Bakery and Café, in Collinsville, wants to step in. She’s taking it upon herself to be one of Santa’s helpers, by whipping up Christmas dinners for those who can’t afford it.
So, while the elves are busy finishing the toys in the North Pole, DeLong and staff will be in the kitchen cooking and baking holiday meals for families in need.
“I started doing these when my dad passed away,” DeLong said. “That was my dad’s favorite part of the year. He always enjoyed Christmas so much.”
This will mark the third year in a row that DeLong will prepare meals – totally free of charge – in memory of her father.
“Daddy was a shut-in and he was disabled, so my dad struggled financially with stuff like this,” she said. “My sister and I always made sure he had what he needed, but there’s a lot of families that don’t.”
It’s why the bakery and café owner wants to use her culinary talents, her passion, to help.
On Christmas Eve, families receive a huge box filled with a freshly prepared dinner. This year, each box will include a ham, potato salad, mashed potatoes, gravy, bread rolls, macaroni salad, drinks and a dessert.
“It may not be much, but something’s better than nothing,” she said.
Each meal can feed as many as 10 people. This year, she hopes to double the number of dinners she made last year, ultimately cooking for more than 20 families – that’s at least 200 individual meals.
Three years ago, the American Farm Bureau Federation reported that the average American Christmas dinner for a family of four was $50.11. Based on that survey, a meal like DeLong will make will produce an average value of $125.
If the families she serves were to buy the meals, they would pay $2,500 altogether. That’s more than double what many of DeLong’s recipients budget in a month.
“It’s so many people that really are good hardworking people who had a good life and were good providers for their families and then once they hit those checks, their life changes,” DeLong said.
The tradition has inspired others to jump in and help.
Kermit and Linda Kanode, who have donated canned goods, drinks and other items for the meals, decided to also donate their time this year and help with the Christmas Eve delivery.
“My wife and I found out what SweetCakes was doing and we wanted to be a part of it,” Kermit said. “We heard about it kind of late last year, so we gave a donation.”
The couple so strongly supported DeLong’s idea that when November rolled around this year, they picked up the phone and dialed the bakery’s number.
“We wanted to kick it up a notch,” Kermit said.
Kermit said his family’s motivation to help stemmed from their membership at Rich Acres Christian Church.
“Our pastor, Tim Hunt, instills in his congregation a desire to go out and help,” Kermit said. “We go out and love on people and visit the sick and grieved and lonely and so forth.”
DeLong’s Christmas spirit also radiates through those who support her business.
Amanda Broome, a SweetCakes customer, shared her admiration for DeLong’s Christmas mission.
“I absolutely love their stuff and the fact that they are doing this. It’s not easy, what they’re doing, and it’s really sacrificial,” Broome said. “It makes me happy that I’m their customer. It makes the meal fare better that it means so much more than just me eating a delicious sandwich; it’s that I am supporting someone who is supporting our community.”
Other than presenting a real need, there’s not a certain set of requirements to qualify for one of DeLong’s homemade Christmas Eve meals.
“Some people battle depression and can’t work. Just different things. Everybody’s thing is different,” DeLong said. “We do a little bit of checking when we do these to make sure these people are legitimately needy. We make sure that what we’re doing is for a good cause.”
Those nominating families do so by sending a message expressing the need to the business’s Facebook page.
To help fund the cause, DeLong uses her business to help fund the cause. Through December 21, she donates 10-percent of her sales to the Christmas dinners.
“That’s what we use for me to pay my employees to help prepare these meals. This is what we go out and buy the stuff with. The 10-percent is used to give people gas money to deliver these things,” DeLong said. “We try to do our very best to put all of the money we can into these.”
While SweetCakes accepts Christmas dinner donations of money, time and goods, DeLong said that some of the most helpful donations are food.
“When you’re doing these things, it gets expensive. Especially when it doubles,” DeLong said. “We’re hoping that we’ll have enough money coming in to do these families that are sending names in. If not, we will cipher through the really needy and the really needy get it first.”
For those interested in donating to the Christmas Eve dinner, contact SweetCakes Bakery and Café at (276) 647-8941 or visit the store at 5140 Kings Mountain Road in Collinsville.
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