Serving Dinner, Spreading Joy
The morning air is clear and cold as the Watz-Hittler family piles out of the car by a small white building in downtown Minneapolis. Annemarie, Caroline, and Nicholas -- ages 10, 13, and 15 -- have come here with their parents to serve Thanksgiving dinner to 75 elderly people, just as they've been doing for years. "My kids have grown up with this," Donna explains. She and husband Bill, both attorneys, have spent almost every holiday here since the kids were born. "This year, we asked the children if they'd rather have dinner at home or with relatives instead, and they all said no," Donna says.
Inside the festive hall, Nicholas and Bill tie on white aprons and begin chopping fruit and washing dishes. Donna and the girls set the tables with china, crisp white cloths, and centerpieces of balloons and flowers. "When the kids were younger, they couldn't play an active role like this," Donna says. "To keep them occupied while we worked, we had them do things like coloring pictures of turkeys." Over time, though, the children have grown increasingly helpful and comfortable with the volunteer work. As the guests arrive for dinner, the kids help take coats and fill out name tags. When it's time to eat, they spread out among the guests. "Initially, the kids would only sit with us, but now they feel comfortable enough to take any open spot," Donna says.
These occasions make Donna and Bill particularly proud of their children. "If there's a job to be done -- if someone needs butter, say -- they'll handle it," Donna says."The things we nag them to do at home seem to come naturally here." What's more, the children truly enjoy sharing the holiday with people who might otherwise be alone. "Some of the elderly have few chances to interact with young people. Our kids bring them as much joy as they bring to us."