BELDING — For Marie Brodock, Christmas Eve was sometimes a day spent alone as her children spent the day with their father.
But for the past several years, that festive day that so many spend with family hasn’t seemed so lonely for the Greenville resident as she travels a few miles south to Bridge Street Cafe in Belding.
Upon stepping inside the locally owned restaurant Monday evening, Brodock was greeted by members of the community with smiling faces wearing Santa hats, was emerged in the sound of various Christmas tunes performed by a brass quintet and was treated to a free Christmas Eve dinner complete with turkey, ham, stuffing, potatoes, gravy and a complete spread of desserts.
“It’s very nice that they do this for the community,” Brodock said. “The food was very good and it always is.”
Brodock was one of more than 400 people who made the trip to the downtown Belding restaurant, which hosts the annual dinner as a way to give back to the community and customers at a time of year when some people may be struggling.
Bridge Street Cafe is operated by owners Dave and Renee Scheid, who with the help of their four children, staff and many volunteers, put on the Christmas Eve dinner annually.
“It’s a free dinner for the community for people that either don’t have anybody or don’t have a lot of money,” Renee Scheid said. “It was packed at 4 p.m. We had people standing because it was so full.”
Renee said the business has been helping with the event, originally hosted at a local funeral home, for six years.
“It’s nice and it teaches my kids something,” she said. “There are a few employees, lots of volunteers, many of them customers, and then I have all four of my kids here helping and donating their time.”
Megon Meinke, one of Renee’s daughters, said she enjoys helping with the event because of the high spirits that everyone brings with them into the restaurant.
“It means a lot to me because we serve our customers everyday and it’s kind of a way for us to give back to them,” Meinke said. “We know that there are a lot of people who are alone or don’t have the money. It’s makes us feel really good because everyone has just been so happy and cheerful.”
Dave Scheid, who was busy playing the tuba in the brass quintet known as “Popahorn and the Christmas Brass Cornucopian” in the corner of the restaurant, said the event has become his family’s way of celebrating Christmas.
“This dinner has kind of grown a life of its own,” he said. “It’s become our Christmas.”
Dave said he’s always tried to find ways to give back to the community, and as the event continues to grow from year to year, he believes his family, employees and volunteers are on the right track.
“It’s pretty gratifying,” he said. “It’s nice to give back to the community. We’re able to do this with help from other businesses and a lot of volunteers. It’s nice to see everybody come out and contribute.”
On top of the dinner, Renee said 80 meals were delivered by Meals-on-Wheels to elderly residents throughout Belding who otherwise may have gone without a traditional Christmas Eve dinner.
Belding resident Byron Davey, who has been volunteering to help with the event for four years, said he couldn’t think of a better way to spend his Christmas Eve.
“When you see all of the people coming in, who are exciting and have smiling faces, it’s just a good experience,” he said. “When I found out about this opportunity, I just had to help out. It seems to get better every year.”