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Cortland/Ithaca

Prepping the 23rd Bandera Christmas Dinner

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Prepping the 23rd Bandera Christmas Dinner
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Christmas is a time for giving and in Binghamton, dozens of volunteers were giving their time to prepare a Christmas Day feast for people they don't know. Our Elyse Mickalonis met up with some of the people happy to be a part of a Southern Tier tradition.

BINGHAMTON, N.Y. -- Christmas dinner means something different to everyone.

“The meal is really nice, but the meal isn’t the purpose. The purpose is how it brings people together and then touches them,” said event organizer Bill Bandera.

To Bill Bandera, Christmas dinner means helping thousands of people. Volunteers spent Monday morning peeling nearly 950 pounds worth of potatoes at the American Legion on Grace Street in Binghamton. Potatoes that will be boiled and mashed overnight for the 23rd Annual Bandera Christmas Dinner.

“I ran into Bill Bandera on Saturday and he said, ‘Do you know what Monday is?’ And I said, ‘Yes it’s Christmas Eve,’ and he said, ‘No, it’s potato peeling day,’” said Judie Poteran, a Johnson City resident.

Natalie Poteran, a Georgia resident, added, “It’s a 23 year old tradition that they serve 5,000 meals. I’m glad I can peel a few potatoes.”

The free Christmas dinner feeds people from all walks of life.

“Of course we get a lot of low income and homeless people,” said Bandera. “But also people who have no one else to eat a meal with and they just don’t want to be alone.”

Bandera took over the cause three years ago from his parents Carolyn and William who started the tradition in 1989, an effort he says is made possible by volunteers.

“It’s hundreds of volunteers, dozens of donors and the heart of people who want to reach out and touch someone in a positive way,” said Bandera.

And while the cause continues to grow locally, Bandera says he has plans to take the effort to kitchens outside of the community.

"It took a life of its own. It grew,” said Bandera. “When my dad passed away, we became non-profit and the idea to start this kind of dinner in new cities. We're still on track with that."

Bandera believes that giving is far better than receiving every day of the year.

Dinner will be served Tuesday from 12 to 3 p.m. at the American Legion Post 80 on Main Street in Binghamton. Those getting takeout can pick up their meals across the street at the Tabernacle United Methodist Church.

Anyone interested in having a meal delivered, ordering a meal to go or volunteering can find more information at www.bfaca.org.

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