Bigfork couple holds free Christmas dinner at VFW

by MACKENZIE REISS
Bigfork Eagle | December 23, 2020 2:30 AM

“No man left behind” is a well-known saying in the military that speaks to the ironclad bonds that soldiers form in the line of duty. But one Bigfork couple is turning those words into action by providing a free Christmas dinner at VFW Post 4042. For the last three years, Navy veteran Dave Russell and his wife, Katie Burns, have been organizing Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners at the VFW to make certain that even those without families have somewhere to go for the holidays. This will be their fourth year serving up a holiday spread and this year’s menu features lasagna, homemade bread, brownies and a salad.

Burns told the Eagle that the couple took it upon themselves to provide the meals after they learned that the VFW would begin closing for the holidays.

“Dave and I were like nope, we’re doing Thanksgiving, we’re doing Christmas — and this is our fourth year,” she said. “We just didn't want it to be closed. There's a lot of guys that don't have anywhere to go. That’s what the VFW is for.”

Russell, who served for four years as a welder in the Navy, said the VFW is a place where vets can go to converse over a beverage without having to contend with loud music or a rowdy environment.

“I go there to associate and hang out with some of the older gentlemen,” Russell said. “They tell stories. It’s a camaraderie thing. It’s a place to talk and hang out.”

Russell owns H20 Cutting Service and said his career has provided him with a decent living that allows him to help others.

“A lot of the guys, when they came home they didn't get a very good welcome. Things are getting better … but back in the day when the boys came home, they didn’t treat them very well,” Russell said. “I can afford to do this, I feel fortunate. It’s just something that the community needs and it’s good to be part of it.”

For the first two years, the dinners came out of the couple’s pocket, but as word got around about what they were doing, others joined in the effort. The Richard H.D. Fleihler Memorial Run and a number of private donors now cover the cost of the food. Burns and Russell handle the preparations -- he’s planning to chef up seven large pans of lasagna for the Friday dinner, while Burns will bake homemade bread and brownies. She said it’s hard to estimate the number of guests since some attendees take more than one helping and others take plates to go, but she figures they serve around 100 people each holiday.

“For a bunch of the veteran guys that I know that are single we always make sure that they get a box to take home for their refrigerator,” she noted. And guests aren’t required to dine-in — folks can simply drop by and grab a box to-go if they prefer. The dinner is open to the community at-large, not just veterans.

“A lot of people, especially this year, they can't travel, they can't be with friends, they can't be with family,” Russell said. “This is just a place they can go to actually have some interaction with other people. You don't have to be a veteran. Anybody from the community is more than welcome.”

The VFW will open at 12 p.m. on Christmas Day and the Christmas dinner begins at 4 p.m.