Lee Zulanch with Benjamin's Bakery & Café in Surfside is one of the co-captains of the dinner. He said this is the most stressful time right now because he's in charge of making sure everything is organized when they start on December 17. A chef will come up with recipes for the dinner, and Zulanch will multiply them by whatever number it takes to do 7,000 meals. He's also making sure everything runs smoothly, from turning a refrigerated trailer to a walk-in refrigerator to checking in with local farmers to procure almost 3,000 pounds of fresh yams. BI-LO, their senior sponsor, as well as countless other vendors make the dinner happen every year.
But for him, it's amazing to see all the volunteers come out.
"I've watched people step up and be more than they thought they could be," said Zulanch. "And the shear bonus of doing what's necessary to help others. There's a lot of clichés… you get so much more than you give. And it becomes an emotional time."
The American Red Cross Christmas dinner started after Hurricane Hugo when they could only feed a few hundred people. Now they are at four different feeding locations, feeding thousands of people.
About six years ago organizers, with the help of BI-LO, began to go a little more wholesale and added more restaurant expertise. Now they're producing twice as many meals as before for the same price.
They want to have enough food to make each plate two pounds, which includes leftovers, so people can have food until organizations like the Helping Hands resume after the Christmas holidays.
Zulanch said his greatest memories are those involving people wanting to help for nothing in return; he said those are the moments that keeps him going.
"The tractor trailer was running out of diesel and literally on Christmas Day we're making frantic phone calls to anyone that can deliver diesel in anything more than a five-gallon can," Zulanch said "And the Nash Oil Company stepped up and refused any money to keep the truck going. That really exemplifies what people can do and the power of giving this time of year."
Zulanch says even if you can't physically help, just come by and soak up the spirit of what people are doing.