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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Nashua Elks serve up dinner on Christmas Day at the soup kitchen

NASHUA – Brooke Payton-Duff chewed on her prime rib while playing peek-a-boo with her mom, entertaining her family at the Christmas dinner table.

The 18-month-old, along with her parents, James and Paula Duff, aunt Kitty Vargas and grandmother Elsie Frost, sat at one of the elongated red tables inside the Nashua Soup Kitchen & Shelter on Christmas Day. They were one of three families who came down to the 44 Chestnut St. address to be served dinner by the Nashua Elks. ...

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NASHUA – Brooke Payton-Duff chewed on her prime rib while playing peek-a-boo with her mom, entertaining her family at the Christmas dinner table.

The 18-month-old, along with her parents, James and Paula Duff, aunt Kitty Vargas and grandmother Elsie Frost, sat at one of the elongated red tables inside the Nashua Soup Kitchen & Shelter on Christmas Day. They were one of three families who came down to the 44 Chestnut St. address to be served dinner by the Nashua Elks.

The family lives across the street from the kitchen, coming in every day for meals. Brooke let out a hearty laugh and a sly smile as she sat between her parents, basking in the attention she was receiving.

“She had a party with squash,” James Duff said about the bits of orange remnants that speckled the front of Brooke’s black T-shirt. Dad was dressed in a Santa Claus T-shirt, and he had a hat to match when he first walked into the kitchen, but politely took it off for dinner.

“I love my wife and I love my daughter,” James Duff said, smiling.

The five enjoyed a warm meal while talking at the table. But things aren’t always this simple for them.

According to Frost, things have been tough for their family since they were burned out of their Pine Street home in February. An electrical fire caused her family to be locked out of their home for three weeks during the middle of last winter. The blaze struck two days after she had surgery on her arm for carpal tunnel syndrome.

“For three weeks, we bounced from hotel to hotel,” Frost said, not knowing when they would be able to return to retrieve their belongings.

Paula Duff said the Red Cross helped her family and they were able to secure fuel assistance. But when the family was finally able to return to their home three weeks later, Frost said a lot of their belongings were missing, including their beds.

Paula Duff said Brooke was only 8 months old at the time of the fire.

“It was rough,” she said.

“It’s still rough now,” Frost said. “We’re sleeping on the floor.”

She said a woman was supposed to get back to her about some bedroom sets, but she never heard from her. Frost hopes to be able to find her family beds to sleep on in the near future.

This is the first Christmas the Elks have cooked dinner for the soup kitchen, according to Sherry Michalewicz, of the Elks. She and many other members have been down at the kitchen, serving meals once a week since they obtained a $10,000 grant from the National Elks Foundation. They just received word that they were again awarded the grant, so the weekly meals at the Nashua Soup Kitchen will go on.

Michalewicz arrived around 8:30 a.m. on Christmas Day to start preparing the meal. Most of the time, she cooks the dinner at the Elks Club and then transports it to the soup kitchen because of the limited space in the building. The menu consisted on prime rib, mashed potatoes, broccoli, squash, Italian wedding soup, along with drinks and various desserts and treats. She said they expected between 80 and 100 people, but were ready for 175-200. Other Elks and two volunteers showed up later in the day, ready to help serve meals for Gate City residents.

As the first family came in, Karen Dube was working next to the soup station. She said Michalewicz is a talented chef and made the Italian wedding soup.

“It’s very good, and we made sure it was OK for them,” Dube said about the patrons.

In addition to the dinner and fruit buffet that was set up in the middle of the room, there were also toys for children to pick out, along with hats, gloves and scarves. Kay White was working the toy table.

“You should have seen us earlier. We’re like a bunch of little kids going through the toys,” she said, laughing.

Dave Lefebvre, who’s in the military, sported a festive reindeer hat and was the one responsible for gathering the donation of toys. He said Dollar Tree stores make donations to military families every Christmas. He is able to bring the leftover gifts – usually between five and six boxes full – to the Elks and city’s Welfare Department for distribution.

“I bring them to Sherry, and she works magic with them,” Lefebvre said.

The soup kitchen was open from 4-6:30 p.m. serving Christmas Day dinner. The first hour was designated for families and children. Since the quarters are cramped at the current building, the individuals and couples waiting for a hot meal were forced to stand out in the cold while they waited their turn.

Michalewicz opened the doors about 15 minutes early to the other patrons, letting them inside for their holiday dinner.

“There’s never a boring meal here. It’s always really good,” Dube said. “They come for seconds, thirds, whatever they want.”

Erin Place can be reached at 594-6589 or eplace@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Place on Twitter (@Telegraph_ ErinP).