MILWAUKEE -- It was a packed house at the Frontier Airlines Center Christmas Day as thousands attended the Salvation Army's Christmas Family Feast. It was an opportunity for every member of the community to partake in a free, warm holiday meal and some fellowship.
With yams, dressing, turkey and all the fixings, it was the perfect family feast. Margie Wilson brought her family down to the Frontier Airlines Center Sunday afternoon to celebrate the holiday. "It's a big holiday for us. I love to see the kids smiling, opening the gifts, saying 'what is this?' It's lovely for them," Wilson said. Wilson says the dinner gives her the opportunity to do more than just enjoy the good food. "Meeting other families, seeing the kids interact with each other. It's a nice time," Wilson said.
Sunday was Martha Ward's first time partaking in the Christmas Family Feast. Ward says Christmas means a lot to her for more reasons than one. "It's like a family gathering. My mom passed in 2009 before Christmas, so I'm enjoying this with my grand-kids, because I miss my mom," Ward said.
About 700 volunteers pitched in to get the meal ready for families to enjoy. Governor Scott Walker helped serve meals as well, and Santa was on hand bearing gifts for kids. Volunteer Roy Brent says it's heartwarming to know he's giving back. "It's very rewarding to be down here today, to see the smiles, and see the kids get a free gift, a coloring book or Spongebob book and a nice meal. It's really nice to be a part of this, and I'll do it again," Brent said.
Organizers say the number of people attending the dinner has increased significantly over the years. They say when it first started, about 2,500 attended, but that number spiked. The Christmas Family Feast has been a tradition for 22 years.
Major Roger Ross with the Salvation Army said he was overwhelmed with the turnout, and says the dinner is a way for even the volunteers to have some fellowship on Christmas Day. "I'm really overwhelmed with the turnout, the turnout of the volunteers, the amount of food here, and the incredible decorations. It's just an incredible event. Also, a couple of the volunteers have expressed that they're used to staying at home all alone, but now, they've found a place where they can come and be of service, and really make a different in people's lives," Major Ross said.