Temple’s Christmas tradition: Serving dinner at the missionMissy Baddin knows little about Christmas that doesn’t involve working at Duluth’s Union Gospel Mission. She’s been helping serve holiday meals there since she was 5 years old. That’s 15 years ago.
By: Mike Creger, Duluth News Tribune
Missy Baddin knows little about Christmas that doesn’t involve working at Duluth’s Union Gospel Mission. She’s been helping serve holiday meals there since she was 5 years old. That’s 15 years ago.
She was at it again Wednesday as more than 100 people filed into the mission to get a meal of turkey, bean casserole, potatoes, yams, salad and a hearty selection of pies.
“It feels so good to give people a nice dinner,” Baddin said. “It feels good to give back, especially because we can.”
Volunteers at the mission come from the Temple Israel, and its Jewish members fill in while other people who might volunteer are busy with Christmas Day traditions.
It’s a family affair. While Baddin sports an apron and serves tables, her father is at the kitchen “assembly line” filling out the orders from those coming into the mission. It’s a custom meal, Mike Baddin said.
“It’s all I’ve done,” he said. “There’s no place I’d rather be.”
Because the holiday fell in the middle of the week this year, fewer Baddins were able to make the trip to Duluth to share in the tradition.
Temple Israel depends on a core of 10 volunteers and usually ends up with 20 to 30, said organizer Tom Griggs. They prep food the night before with the mission’s cook and come in at 8:30 a.m. on Christmas Day to serve the meals from noon to 2 p.m.
It’s all new to Dan Monroe, who’s been the mission cook for just three months. He was pleased with the special meals Wednesday and Christmas Eve: a ham dinner.
“It makes me happy being here,” he said.
And the feedback on the Thanksgiving and Christmas meals has put him in a cheery mood.
“They’re saying the meals taste better since I’ve been here,” Monroe said. “That’s what they tell me.”
“I was skeptical,” said mission regular and volunteer Shelly Rantalla with a smile. “But he’s done a wonderful job.”
The mission serves meals at its First Street East location in downtown Duluth seven days a week to anyone who walks in. The only rule is not to be intoxicated or unruly, Monroe said.
The holiday meals are a bit more extravagant, he said, than those served daily. There is breakfast, lunch and dinner Monday through Friday; dinner only on Saturdays; and lunch and dinner on Sundays.
Monroe said he doesn’t mind spending part of his Christmas working. He planned to join his family in the evening.
Paul Hannu is new to the mission as well. He’s the interim director and couldn’t help but repeat the word “wonderful” when talking about his first Christmas meal experience there.
“It’s really about sitting with people to have conversation and a meal,” Hannu said.
It’s a tradition that is more than 30 years old for Temple Israel and the volunteers eat up the atmosphere as heartily as those eating from their trays.
“It’s a lot of decent people down on their luck,” said volunteer Fred Friedman.
Mike Baddin said he’s a retired mental health social worker and can appreciate some of the hardships people deal with, especially during the holidays.
“This is a good place,” Rantalla said. “My family’s not here. My daughter called me this morning and asked what I was doing. I said I was in bed watching cartoons. She told me to get up and go get me a meal at the mission.”
“I watch people,” she said. “There’s a lot of friendly faces here.”