While most families were sitting around Christmas trees and opening presents Friday morning, the Cornelius family was hard at work.
Nathan Cornelius, 12, and Stephanie Cornelius, 7, rushed around tables in the large dining room, setting out napkins and silverware. Their father, Jason Cornelius, stirred a large pot of gravy in the kitchen.
The family, and about a dozen other volunteers, spent part of their Christmas preparing and serving lunch of ham, mashed and sweet potatoes and stuffing for the Community Kitchen, a Catholic Community Services program that operates out of the Salvation Army’s downtown Olympia shelter.
Rebecca Cornelius said the family celebrated a day early, allowing them to spend the actual holiday giving back to the community .
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“We want the kids to know that giving back is important,” she said. “It’s not all about getting presents.”
Stephanie Cornelius brought her own purple apron and chef’s hat — presents that Santa Claus brought her this year — to wear while volunteering.
“I had them on my Christmas list,” Stephanie said.
Rebecca Cornelius said both children have a lot of fun while volunteering.
Chris Santos, a frequent Community Kitchen volunteer, said working the Christmas meal shift isn’t all that different from volunteering any other day. He typically works on Sundays, when there are fewer volunteers. But, the Christmas meal is usually busier.
“Usually, we get a lot of people arriving during the holidays,” Santos said. “This time of year, money is tight for a lot of people.”
Santos said he keeps returning as a Community Kitchen volunteer because he likes the feeling of kinship and the experience of giving back.
The Cornelius family chose to work with Community Kitchen because it’s one of the few programs that allows children to volunteer, Rebecca Cornelius said. Many organizations only accept volunteers over the age of 13.
“That’s too bad, because the kids are really into it,” Rebecca Cornelius said. “So we’re glad we found this one.”