Uncle Louie’s prepares free dinner

Christmas Feast

Joe McIntyre

Uncle Louie’s Backyard chef Gaylord Veit takes inventory Saturday of supplies for the restaurant’s upcoming free Christmas dinner in Cortlandville.

CORTLANDVILLE — Gaylord Veit has one of the most important jobs at Uncle Louie’s Backyard steakhouse — prepare the Christmas dinner.

Last year was his first year. He’ll return once again to the restaurant on Tompkins Street from noon to 5 p.m. on Christmas Day.

What goes in to the large festive dinner? For starters, at least 20 hours of preparation time. Then, there is the food:

• 20 turkeys.
• 10 hams.
• More than 100 pounds of mashed potatoes.
• 5 gallons of gravy.
• 40 pounds of vegetables, most likely peas or corn.
• 50 pies.

Veit will have help, of course. Eight volunteers and his wife, Kelly. As well as “Uncle Louie” himself, owner Kent Finkelstein.

Last year, Veit made his way around the dining room. In the corner was a man in his 80s or so. “He was sitting alone,” Veit said.

At a glance

What: Free Christmas Dinner
When: Noon to 5 p.m. Dec. 25
Where: Uncle Louie’s Backyard, Tompkins Street, Cortlandville
Featuring: Turkey, ham, potatoes, 50 pies

Donations and Volunteers

• To volunteer to help at Uncle Louie’s Christmas dinner, call the restaurant at 607-758-3062.
• Donations to help the dinner can be dropped off at the restaurant at 294 Tompkins St., Cortlandville.

Veit walked by and asked the man how his meal was. He learned the man was not there for the food, instead for the company. “Nobody should be alone on Christmas,” Veit said.

This year marks the sixth year that Finkelstein and Uncle Louie’s will host a free Christmas dinner. “I have a pretty good life,” Finkelstein said. “I wanted to give back something.”

Every year the dinner serves about 250 people, Finkelstein said. Anyone can come, he said: poor, rich, dressed well or in tattered clothes. “I’m just trying to give back,” he said.

Finkelstein said anyone who wants to volunteer is welcome. They can call the restaurant to sign up.

Finkelstein looks back on past dinners and remembers two people. One a man in his 90s, who looked like a millionaire, and had spent 10 years alone on Christmas after his wife died; and the other a little blonde girl who didn’t receive anything from Santa until Finkelstein found a “misplaced” present at the restaurant.

To put the dinner together, Finkelstein receives donations. He hasn’t received any yet, but people have until Christmas day to drop donations off at the restaurant, he said. Volunteers come in and help, including Finkelstein’s son and ex-wife.

In past years, 30 to 40 presents for children have been donated by a doctor at Cortland Regional Medical Center, Finkelstein said. He hasn’t received any word this year regarding the donations.

When people ask Finkelstein why he does the dinner, his answer is short. “It’s the right thing to do,” he said.

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