No clothes, electronics or video games were under the Christmas tree this year for 14-year-old Rae-Mone Baynham.
“No big deal,” said the Cristo Rey High School student.
He wasn’t expecting anything. The gift he hoped for wasn’t something he’d find wrapped in a box, Rae-Mone said as he walked along Linwood Avenue in Kansas City on Wednesday morning with his mother, Serena Ealy.
The two were heading for the Salvation Army with hopes that volunteers there would welcome them to help serve this year’s Christmas dinner to the hundreds of needy people who always show up for the holiday meal.
Rae-Mone and his father had served folks there during Thanksgiving. And even though he hadn’t signed up for Christmas, all Rae-Mone wanted this year was a chance to serve and talk with the Salvation Army’s Christmas visitors.
“It was just an idea,” Rae-Mone said. “I needed to give back this year.”
Others shared his sentiment.
A long line of volunteers filed through the front doors, and each one, including Rae-Mone and his mom, slipped into a red apron. On the south side of the building, another long line of volunteers formed to pick up meals to deliver to hungry people who couldn’t make the trip to the Salvation Army dining hall.
“This is our way to say thank you this year,” Maj. Douglas Rowland, the Salvation Army western divisional secretary, said as he blessed the meal before opening the doors to visitors. “Love them good today, God. May everyone who enters these doors sense your love.”
“It is open to everyone,” Rowland said. “Many come off the streets. We just say: ‘Here’s a meal. Come and enjoy it.’ ”
For many, it was their only meal on Christmas.
“Some come because they have no place else to go. Some come because they enjoy the company,” said Jane Sander, the Salvation Army’s metro volunteer director.
Susan Goldenberg has been at every Salvation Army holiday dinner for the last 15 years.
“I just love doing this. It makes you feel good inside,” said Goldenberg, a violinist with the Kansas City Symphony.
Wednesday’s service was the sixth that Waymond King, owner of King Marketing Group, has volunteered for.
“For me, the true meaning of Christmas is sharing with those who are not as fortunate,” King said. “Christmas had just become so commercialized. People want to buy things for you when you already have everything you need or want.”
The broad smile across King’s face made it clear he enjoyed welcoming guests into the dining hall, helping them find seats and motioning servers to their table.
Volunteers had been planning and cooking the meal for days. With donations from local businesses, philanthropists and the Red Kettle project, the Salvation Army has provided Christmas dinner for the last 30 years.
The serving line ran smoothly Wednesday, maybe because all but one person filling the red plastic plates were family.
Kansas City restaurateur Carl DiCapo stacked on the turkey, and his granddaughter Alex DiCapo scooped up the mashed potatoes. Jack DiCapo, his son, piled on the green beans and stuffing, and Carl Dicapo Jr. smothered it all with a ladle full of gravy. Kay Roscoe — the only one not related — topped the meal with a roll.
A side table held 1,400 slices of pumpkin pie and whipped cream.
That’s the meal Jameisha Harris, 15, went to bed thinking about Tuesday night. So when she awoke Christmas morning, “I went around waking everybody up and telling them, ‘Let’s go to the Salvation Army,’ ” she said.
It’s where she, four siblings and their dad have eaten Christmas dinner for the last three years. Her mom was at work Wednesday.
“They have such good food here,” Jameisha said. “You can eat as much as you want, and the people are so polite. Every time I come here, I feel loved.”
Every visitor left with a gift — a box of Russell Stover chocolates. Jameisha wrapped her arms around hers.
Eddie White’s hands were full, too. The 36-year-old Army soldier and his wife, Rashanda White, together headed out the back door of the dining hall with 11 meals for shut-ins at a Kansas City apartment complex. Eddie White said he has served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, but that’s not enough for him.
“There is always more to be done,” he said. “This to me, helping out like this, is really the biggest part of giving back.”