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Westport Christmas Tradition Triumphs Over Tragedy

WESTPORT, Conn. – They may have been forced out of their church by fire, but that hasn't deterred Randy Christophersen and other Saugatuck Congregational Church volunteers from carrying on with the church's annual Community Christmas Feast.

In fact, the Nov. 20 fire that ravaged the rear of the church has served not only as an inspiration to continue the tradition but also to make it the best one yet, said Christophersen, church feast and mission board chairman.

"I think [the fire] has made people's spirits stronger — it really has. In the years past, it's been a real challenge, especially around Christmas, to get people to volunteer because they're all going away," he said. "But the fire has definitely raised awareness. We have a volunteer staff of about 100 people."

The fire touched the hearts of church congregants as well as the community as a whole. Christophersen said there's been an outpouring of support. For starters, Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church offered to house the feast in its Great Hall. Without that support, "we wouldn't have had a place to put it," Christophersen said.

"They came to our rescue again," he said. The annual Saugatuck Congregational Church Thanksgiving feast was also held at Christ & Holy Trinity.

Also for the first time, Westport's Green's Farms Church is participating in this year's event, Christophersen said. With three church communities coming together, he said the feast has evolved into a "true community Christmas Day feast."

Also helping the event come to life is Stop & Shop. Annually, the Westport store provides all the produce. On Thursday, Christophersen and congregant David Pool, aided by Stop & Shop Produce Manager Sam Farina, picked up more than $1,000 worth of fruits and vegetables.

Westport-based Britt Air, an air condition/HVAC company, donated 15 turkeys for the feast, 15 hams were donated by the public, and more than 60 pies were donated by members of all three church communities, Christophersen said.

Other major contributors include Stew Leonard's, Panera Bread, Newman's Own and A&J's Farm Market.

Donated toys are also handed out to all the children in attendance. This year, the Fireman's Fund donated two large Santa bags filled with new toys, Christophersen said.

The feast is free and open to everyone, not just the Westport community. "We get people from all over," he said. "We've had families from New York come up and families from New Haven come down."

Typically, the event draws a crowd of about 300. But this year, because three churches are involved, Christophersen said more people are expected. And in the spirit of true community outreach, Christophersen said a ride service picks up people who otherwise can't make it to the feast and also delivers full meals to shut-ins.

"This is one of our strongest mission service events," he said.

This year's feast will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m on Sunday. Hospitality hour will begin at 10:30 a.m. Christ & Holy Trinity is located at 75 Church Lane in Westport.

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