“It was wonderful,” Osterhout said. “We just ate and sat around and talked. I really enjoyed it.” The nine guests all needed transportation to and from the store, and two neighbors who’d read about the dinner called and offered to give rides.
When asked if the dinner was going to be held next year, Pearl said, “I’d like to.”
Despite the store going out of business, the dinner was held again in 1984, and no doubt the word had spread about the success of the 1983 event.
With 10 volunteers to back her up, Pearl “Mom” Osterhout was able to continue the dinner, nearly across from her old store, at the Elm Park Methodist Church on Chestnut Street. She prepared for an expected 150 guests, but was pleased that 50 showed and the leftovers were given to anyone who wanted to bring the food home.
Pearl said the dinner had grown beyond her ability to do everything herself. On Dec. 21, 1985 it was reported that the tradition had to be abandoned for financial reasons.
“We decided that we can’t really handle it this year,” Osterhout said. “Money is tight.”
While the Elm Park church would’ve liked to continue the tradition, David Rockwell, pastor, said the sudden news came with no time to adequately prepare.
No local organization picked up the tradition in 1986 or 1987. Then a very brief news item appeared in the Star of Monday, Dec. 19, 1988.
“St. Mary’s School will have a shared meal from 12:30 to 3 p.m. Dec. 25 at the school. Transportation will be provided.” A phone number was included.
This new effort was organized by Peg Cawley, Jean London and Marianne Hartmann. A buffet for 44 people was given.
The three women called their organization the “Friends of Christmas.” The dinner became an annual event and remained low-key in publicity. Thirty were served in 1989. But the effort grew quickly; the dinner fed 70 in 1990, and more than 120 in 1991.