A dinner `for the whole community’ | AspenTimes.com

A dinner `for the whole community’

Jennifer Davoren

Cooking for 1,000 people takes a lot of time, effort and space – a little more than Aspen’s St. Mary’s Catholic Church can afford.

The church’s annual St. Patrick’s Day dinner is in its 114th year of serving valley visitors and residents. And local participation helps the church put on its biggest fund-raiser of the year, said Jeannie Walla, co-chairperson for the event.

“We prevail on different restaurants to help us out,” Walla said.

Many area restaurants, including Ajax Tavern, Back Door Catering, Crystal Palace, European Caterers, the Grottos, Hotel Jerome, Little Annie’s, Red Onion, Steak Pit and Wienerstube, will be lending their kitchens to the church this weekend in preparation for Saturday’s 5 p.m. dinner.

A lot of the preparation for the holiday event is done on site, Walla said, as volunteers prepare the rest of the meal at the church.

“There’s a ton of cooking that goes on at St. Mary’s,” she said.

The day before the dinner is dedicated to the peeling of hundreds of potatoes, as well as preparing the finishing touches – coleslaw, green beans and homemade bread and desserts provided by parishioners.

The annual dinner has never varied its menu in its century of existence, Walla said, something repeat customers appreciate.

“It’s a time-honored tradition,” she said. “The menu’s been unchanged, and it’s kind of fun having something that’s traditional.”

The tradition began over 100 years ago when local Catholic miners organized a fund-raiser that would help them build a church of their own. The area that now houses St. Mary’s church and rectory is the only spot in town immune to developers, Walla said.

“That square block is the only street in all of Aspen that has remained unchanged in 100 years,” she said.

The block itself is the same, but this year’s community event will help the church fund a few changes – proceeds from the meal will help the church renovate its 112-year-old rectory and add affordable staff housing. The $1.5 million project, expected to break ground this week, will be greatly helped by the $12 per adult and $6 per child the church charges for the meal, Walla said.

Entertainment is included in the ticket price – Beat Smash Square, a Celtic group from Paonia, will return for a second performance at the annual dinner.

The event isn’t organized for the sole purpose of raising money for the church, co-chairperson John Vogel said, but also to bring members of the community together for an evening.

“We do want to make money, but it’s more of a community builder,” Vogel said. “It’s not just a Catholic event. It’s for the whole community.”

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