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Hundreds enjoy decades-old holiday event

Photo by Kathy Jefcoats
City workers hand out homemade crackling cornbread, and potato chips, during Wednesday’s Forest Park Christmas lunchoen.

Photo by Kathy Jefcoats City workers hand out homemade crackling cornbread, and potato chips, during Wednesday’s Forest Park Christmas lunchoen.

It wasn't exactly barbecue weather, but nearly 2,000 braved a windy, cold and rainy Wednesday afternoon, for Forest Park's annual Christmas event, featuring smoked pork and crackling cornbread.

Ward 1 Councilwoman Sparkle Adams said she was happy to see so many smiling, hungry faces. "It's always great when you can see people of all walks of life, occupation[s], gender[s] and ethnicities sitting down and breaking bread together," said Adams. "This is the reason for the season, good food and fun."

Employees from Forest Park’s Public Works and Parks and Recreation departments spent most of the day before, smoking 160 Boston butts, and "a lot" of hot dogs, said worker, Michael Weems.

"We cook each batch for four hours, and then they cool for four hours," he said. "And we did four batches. In between checking on the meat, we set up tables and chairs and got ready for today."

Weems had but one complaint. "It seems like it rains every year," he said. "It'd be nice if, just one year, it didn't rain."

Other city employees made cracking cornbread from scratch. Rounding out the meal were coleslaw, sauce and Brunswick stew from Shane's, potato chips, and slices from a variety of different-flavored cakes for dessert.

City Manager John Parker said Forest Park has provided the free Christmas luncheon for more than 40 years. His wife, Irene, joined him for the lunch Wednesday.

"Our employees used to pick up scrap metal and iron all year, and sell it to pay for the lunch," he said. "I don't know when it changed, but now, it's a line item in the budget."

The luncheon is open to all city workers and residents, said Parker, but people from all over the state show up.

"There are many people here from the state level," he said. "There is a representative from the governor's office here, there are politicians from all over."

Local businesses are also invited to attend. Michael Flagler, branch manager for Mayer Electrical Supply Co., enjoyed a plate of barbecue and chips.

"It's a great event, puts you in the holiday spirit," said Flagler. "It shows appreciation for local companies, and provides a good networking opportunity. And the food is good."

Mayor Corine Deyton, Ward 3 Councilwoman Maudie McCord, and other city officials greeted everyone as they streamed into the Parks and Recreation gym, but one member was not there for the first time in many years –– Ward 4 Councilman Don Judson, 80. He died suddenly the Friday before the November election.

Adams said she could feel his presence. "I know his spirit is with us, and he's smiling down on us," she said. "This is what he liked, meeting people from the community, and from all over."s