Nearly 4,000 Served at Bandera Christmas Dinner

By Matt Porter

December 25, 2012 Updated Dec 25, 2012 at 10:22 PM EST

Binghamton, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Hundreds of volunteers came to serve good food and good cheer to the nearly 4,000 guests of the 23rd Annual Bandera Family Christmas Dinner.

Sharon Nieminski of Binghamton was one of those volunteers. She greeted people as they came in the door.

"It's kind of like being part of God's family and God's house here," said Nieminski, "Everybody's got not only a free dinner, but they've got all the company and volunteers. It's like all you have to know is a first name and it's like you know them forever here."

Walter Fetzer, also of Binghamton, has been volunteer for several years.

Despite being in a coma for seven days earlier last year, he was up without a cane helping serve up fresh bread to hungry guests.

"For a man my age, 86 years old," said Fetzer, "I'm very thankful."

Also thankful, guests like Ray and Sherry Butts from Smithville who've been married for 15 years.

With little family in the area, they were happy to find some relief for the holiday.

"I lost my mom in '95, and the same year I had a motorcycle accident in '95," said Ray Butts. "I think it's great that they do this for the people here."

And for Binghamton's Arnold Miller and his nine-year-old grandson, the day brought plenty of cheer.

"I love it. They do a wonderful job, they're really organized and stuff," said Miller, "And all the cooks and everything should be appreciated for what they do. And it's everybody here, you know, everybody here can be your family. "

The dinner tradition came about when Bill and Carolyn Bandera arranged a free dinner for the community.

The first dinner served just 69 people in 1989.

Bill died three years ago and Carolyn died earlier this year so this was the first time without either of them at the dinner.

Bill Bandera, the son, carries on the tradition began by his parents.

Bandera said the enthusiasm of both the volunteers and guests are something his parents could only have dreamed of.

"Of all the goals that they had when they started," Bandera said, "I think we've come to a place that they never would have imagined."

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