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Bigfork VFW honors couple and Montana Legends for preparing annual Christmas dinner

by TAYLOR INMAN
Bigfork Eagle | December 29, 2021 12:00 AM

Bigfork Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4042 took some time to honor a couple who prepares their Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners every year. VFW Post Commander Rob Gambino gave Dave Russell and Katie Burns Awards of Commendation for their work supporting veterans.

Russell is a member of Montana Legends, a group that supports veterans through various projects throughout the year. Burns said the group also funds scholarships to Flathead Community College, buys Christmas presents for people living at the Veterans Home in Columbia Falls, and donates to other veterans groups— like the Northwest Montana Veterans Stand Down and Food Pantry. Proceeds from the Montana Legend’s annual Memorial Poker Run have funded thousands of dollars worth of food for the Northwest Montana Veterans every year. This year, they were able to donate $20,000 worth of food.

Burns said she and Russell decided to put on the Christmas dinner for the first time five years ago, after members were exhausted from moving to their new building and decided not to open the hall for Christmas like usual.

“Dave and I were like, ‘no, no, no, just give us the keys to the building, we’re going to feed everybody. So we just started doing it and now they want us to keep doing it,” she said.

Lasagna is what is on their menu for Christmas dinner— enough to feed upwards of 100-150 people. Burns said this is about the amount they prepare for Thanksgiving, and they ran out this year due to the huge turnout.

“The first couple of years Dave and I paid for everything ourselves, but now we’re getting donations, so we use that to buy the food and supplies,” Burns said.

Russell makes eight to 10 large pans of lasagna, Burns makes homemade bread and a big caesar salad, and for dessert they make a chocolate cake. A lot of work for sure, but Burns said it’s all so people have a place to go on Christmas.

“When we were there five years ago, there were a couple of guys who always go to the VFW for Christmas and they wouldn’t have had anywhere else to go or anyone else to spend the day with,” Burns said. “So we were like, no, you’re not going to be closed, we’ll just do it,”

On Christmas night, people moved through a packed VFW hall while a band of bagpipes played Christmas hymns. Burns and Russell were not aware of their award until that night, when Gambino made an announcement to the room and invited them up front to thank them for their contributions.

But, their Christmas dinner is just another order of business for Burns, Russell and the Montana Legends, who stay focused on creating opportunities for veterans and most importantly, making sure they stay fed.

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The Bigfork VFW Post was packed for their annual Christmas dinner.