Nearly 900 enjoy annual Christmas meal

Tuesday, December 30, 2014
Pictured from left, servers Jon Suit, Phyllis Weathermon, Mary Nell Sparks and Chad Sparks dished up meals for Miranda Myddelton and Dennis Allen at the Monett Community Christmas dinner on Thursday. Murray Bishoff/

50 volunteers help serve, deliver area meals

Chief cook Greg Davis, left, and Larry Murray began preparing another batch of stuffing for the Monett Community Christmas dinner. Murray Bishoff/

Approximately 900 people enjoyed the 30th annual Thornton Community Christmas Dinner held recently at the First United Methodist Church in Monett.

In the second year without founder Linn Thornton, the dinner ran without any hitches, according to organizers, and it attracted a bigger crowd than last year.

"It went really smooth," said Earnie Thornton, Linn Thornton's son, who has taken the lead in continuing the community effort. "I was here at 5:45 a.m., the helpers showed up. It was all a breeze, the easiest year we ever had."

Chief cook Greg Davis concurred the kitchen operation ran particularly problem-free.

"We had lots of help and a lot of people working together," Davis said, who arrived to start cooking at 6 a.m. "We had quite a few new faces and still had the old faithful volunteers, around 50 total."

Deliveries to more distant locations took first priority. Earnie Thornton reported that the Lawrence County jail served its inmates at 11 a.m., so the 57 meals heading to the jail had to go out the door by 10:30 a.m. A total of 250 home deliveries went to shut-ins, the working staff and inmates at the

Monett Justice Center, security people working at local factories and others who called in with requests.

Around 450 people sat down in the fellowship hall at the First United Methodist Church in Monett to enjoy the 30th annual Monett Community Dinner, started by Linn Thornton and continued by his family and an army of volunteers. Murray Bishoff/

Four runs to Ramey's Supermarket restocked supplies as the day progressed.

Linn Thornton started the dinner especially for those who lived alone, could no longer prepare a large holiday meal for themselves, and who wanted company for the day or who were traveling and had no place to go. Many examples of the target audience were in the crowd.

Lee Schoonover usually cooked a big meal, but not since having a bad car accident. She accepted an invitation from her sister, whose husband volunteers at the dinner. Katie Henry and her husband recently came to Monett looking for work and learned about the dinner from the church. Lola Brown used to prepare pickles for Linn Thornton for the dinner. He referred to her as "the Pickle Lady," and she returned to enjoy the experience.

"I've known Linn all my life," said Karlos Conway, who returned to volunteer for his 17th year. "This is my way to give back to the community. My family is not close. This is my family now."

The same personal touch that Linn Thornton used continued to attract some of the guests. Larry Cole, from Carthage, learned of the dinner from Earnie Thornton at one of Thornton's music gigs. Thornton said some of the volunteers had eaten at past dinners and now returned to help. One, whose mother live in Monett, now comes from Wichita to help.

Linn Thornton's memory still loomed large at the event. His sisters, Geneva Thornton and Faye Snow, returned and stationed themselves by the Christmas tree to hand out toys to any children who attended.

Earnie Thornton, center, talked with friends Larry Cole, from Carthage, and Linda Parr, from Joplin, who came to Monett to enjoy the community Christmas dinner. Murray Bishoff/

"It's very sad to come back, and very good," said Geneva Thornton. "This was Linn's life. Even when he was dying he was still inviting people to the dinner. I'm very proud of Earnie and Leta [Earnie's wife] for keeping this going."

"Linn sure is missed," Faye said. "He would be pleased to see this. He was worried that the dinner would not continue."

Scott Beckwith, whose firm Architectural Systems Inc. employed Linn and still serves as a drop-off for toys distributed by Earnie Thornton, felt Linn's absence in the size of the crowd.

"Linn was a master at promoting this," he said.

When clean-up began, the tray count indicated 450 meals had been served in the hall and other 200 meals had been carried home, in addition to deliveries. The count topped last year by about 200.

The Monett Community Christmas dinner is still a family affair for the Thorntons. Linn Thornton's sisters, Geneva Thornton, left, and Faye Snow accepted a hug from niece Veronica Ray, sharing the full smiles seen around the room for the event. Murray Bishoff/

"We had a job to do and we did it," Thornton said, who had begun making plans for next year.

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