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Mark Simonson

December 23, 2013

Oneonta's Christmas dinner tradition started in 1980s

Wednesday will mark the 26th annual Friends of Christmas dinner in Oneonta. The meal will be served from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church at 66 Chestnut St. Some may not realize it or perhaps have forgotten, but there was a short-lived predecessor to this popular, free and well-attended event. It dates back to 1983.

“Pearl Osterhout is expecting dinner guests on Christmas day,” it was reported in The Daily Star of Thursday, Dec. 22, 1983. “She does not know how many guests she will have or who they will be.”

“But on Sunday afternoon tables will be set and food will be ready for whomever appears.”

At the time, Pearl Osterhout owned Mom’s Minimart, a store she opened about a year earlier at 398 Chestnut St., on the northeast corner of Murdock Avenue, now a series of storefronts.

Pearl played the role of mom to dozens of local teenagers who regularly came to her shop to play pool or an assortment of video games.

“She plans to extend her brand of kindness to anyone without a home or family with whom to celebrate Christmas. Mrs. Osterhout and her husband Warren will host a big holiday dinner at the store, free of charge to anyone who does not want to be alone.”

“I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit,” Mrs. Osterhout said. “I’ve had people coming in here saying they don’t have a place to go.”

Neighbors and friends who learned about the dinner began bringing food to the store.

“We’re going to prepare for twenty,” Pearl said. “If we have to make another ham, we’ll make another ham.”

Mom’s Minimart was busy on Christmas day. Nine people accepted Pearl’s invitation, so in addition to her husband, three children and six grandchildren, the table was crowded.

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Mark Simonson

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