Bandera Christmas dinner expands, spreads cheer

By Megan Carpenter

December 25, 2013 Updated Dec 25, 2013 at 11:39 PM EST

Binghamton, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Some don't have the means, or the family to make Christmas something special. For more than 20 years, the Bandera family has looked to change that.

The 24th annual Bandera Family Free Christmas Dinner had people packing American Legion's Post 80 on Wednesday. Bill and Carolyn Bandera started the tradition in 1989. Both have since died, and their son, Bill Jr., has carried on the tradition.

"We can create a good meal, but we cannot create the feeling people get from being here," Bandera Jr. said.

This year, he had help from 150 volunteers. They prepare the food and also deliver it, reaching people in five counties across the Southern Tier.

"You feel so overwhelmed at what you're doing for the community," said volunteer Sharon Nieminski. "It's like giving yourself a gift that is priceless."

For the first time, the Bandera dinner expanded to Endicott's Boys and Girls Club. Between the two locations, volunteers prepared enough food for nearly 3,000 people.

"Today, I figure I'd take advantage of it," said Johnnie Santiago of Binghamton. "It's a blessing, it's free and I thank God for the opportunity to come here."

Bandera Jr. said the goal is to provide everyone with a Christmas worth remembering.

"It's not just people who are in need that come to this meal," Bandera Jr. said. "It's people who don't want to be alone."

Bandera said for the past two years, he's also set up a buffet dinner at the assisted living center at 110 Chenango St.