Rick Courier and Mike Shaw say one of their favorite gigs of the year is rocking carols at the annual free Christmas meal at the Ashland Armory.
Courier thumbed lines on his bubble-gum pink Guild bass and Shaw strummed a 12-string Washburn as close to 1,000 people filed through the armory to grab a plate of holiday comfort food.
"It's the best present for us on Christmas because we get to do something we like to do and we also get to give back to the community," Courier said. "You couldn't ask for a better gig."
Shaw said the band members enjoy playing holiday standards, though they take time to put their own stamp on the classics.
"I'll improvise a little and add my own pizzazz to a song," he said.
The food line poked out of the armory's doors throughout the day. The meal has been going on for 33 solid years and is hosted by the Ashland Christian Fellowship.
Fellowship Associate Pastor Ron Gassman said the meal might be sponsored by a church, but is open to anyone, no matter their beliefs.
"We have seen the same faces come in year after year, but we also see new people," Gassman said. "We see everyone from the homeless to families who want to come in and enjoy a meal with the community."
Close to 400 pounds of turkey was served and countless slices of pumpkin pie disappeared from the dessert table, Gassman said.
In addition, the group ran food to shut-ins throughout the area, he said.
"We have some people, mostly elderly, who can't leave their homes and we make sure to get them a meal," Gassman said.
He figured about 100 meals were delivered by 4 p.m. Christmas Day.
The tough economy in recent years hasn't affected the meal, Gassman said. The numbers of people seeking a free meal on Christmas in Ashland has hovered around the 1,000 mark since 2008.
Chris Adams, the event coordinator, said the goal is to make the meal feel like a traditional Christmas dinner.
"We want you to come in here and have it feel like you're walking into a friend's dining room on the holiday," he said.
Eight-year-old Charissa Mackinnon and her sister, Celeste, 10, spent their second Christmas in a row working the dessert table.
The girls have partnered with the Sparrow Club and are using their volunteer hours to raise funds for a classmate that has fallen on hard times. The pair are paid $10 per hour by the club for their volunteer duties. This money will go to the needy classmate.
"They love helping at the meal and it's for a good cause," said the girls' mother, Julie Mackinnon. "It's a winning situation."
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or firstname.lastname@example.org.