ONEONTA _ Planners of this year's Friends of Christmas dinner were on target with their expectations for Thursday's event.

About 500 meals were served at the annual dinner in Oneonta, said Carol Forman, an organizer. This included more than 200 meals at the First United Methodist Church between 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. In addition, there were about 150 takeouts and 120 deliveries, she said.

Fewer than 400 meals were served at last year's event, but a couple of factors contributed to the group planning for more, Forman said.

The bad economy led Paul Omelia, 45, of Oneonta, and his wife and daughter to attend, he said. He is unemployed, he said, and the dinner provided a chance for the family to share a holiday meal together.

"It helped us out when times are tough," he said. "It's nice to get together and see everyone. It's a community that cares," he said.

His wife, Joanann Omelia, 43, said this is the first year the family attended the dinner.

"I don't have a clue," she said, when asked what the family would do for Christmas dinner without the free meal.

"It's great to see the community come together," she said.

For others, the meal provided an alternative to being alone.

This included Edward Kilpatrick, 84, of Oneonta, whose wife died five years ago. This is the second year he has attended.

"It gets people involved in their community," he said.

With few if any restaurants open, the community event provides a chance for "a nice home-cooked meal" and some companionship, he said.

The dinner also provided an opportunity for people to help others.

See MEALS on Page 3

Peter Exton, 57, said his family got the idea to "pitch in" after his daughter and her friends decided to make cookies for the event.

"Its a wonderful sense of community," he said, as he added dinner rolls to plates of turkey and/or ham.

Its provides both an opportunity to see friends and meet new people, he said.

His daughter, Maggie Exton, a junior at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute said, "I like seeing everyone come together." The family will be having its own Christmas meal later in the day, she said.

This is the 16th year that Jo Terwilliger, of Oneonta, has helped cook the meal with her husband John.

"Just giving of ourselves is what Christmas is all about," she said. She enjoys making people happy and getting hugs from appreciative mealgoers through her volunteering, she said.

"The merchants in the area have been very generous," said Forman, more than making up for a decline in monetary donations for the dinner. None of the food will go to waste, with leftovers being given to local feeding programs or food pantries, she said.

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