League of Women Voters

You are the gift: two causes


On Christmas, 2017, Isaac Weliver’s mother died. Already a fraught holiday for him, that Christmas sealed itself as a disaster. This year, as he chairs the annual community Christmas Dinner for the second year, he thinks of all those who face the holiday for the first time without a loved one, or those with fresh traumas, knotted up family situations or who are celebrating alone.

Six years ago, Weliver had come back to Crawfordsville to care for his mom after cheffing and launching successful restaurants around the world. After his mother died, he stuck around Crawfordsville, opening Francis and Mount.

Life in the restaurant business is life lived on a thin margin. Restaurants, especially local ones, fight to exist. Food is temperamental, given to expiring, with tastes changing with trends and people deciding not to eat out when budgets are tight. Because it’s a service industry, owners constantly balance paying staff well with keeping prices affordable. When the pandemic hit, Weliver’s will to survive inspired him to create Feed the Fam (FaM). With donations, he served meals to front-line workers, so serving the community with Montgomery County’s annual Christmas dinner came as a natural next step.

Then in 2021, when the current chair Joyce Fitzwater was ready to relinquish her role, Weliver’s cousin saw an ad calling for a new leader. He called Chef Ike, as Weliver is respectfully and fondly called and told him, “This is your destiny.” Knowing he’d like to turn the Christmas season around, Weliver responded. Now in his second year, he credits the former chairs who’ve built the dinner and left their mark on the event, each in a unique way, expanding it to serve over well over 1,200 meals. This year, the team of more than 70 volunteers plans to deliver 1,000 meals, about 90% of the meals they’ll serve along with pickup for those who have transportation and another 250 locals will sit down to enjoy the meal together.

For years, churches provided the site for preparation and service. Most recently First Baptist hosted the dinner, but it’s outgrown those sites. Because Arni’s is helping to prepare the turkeys donated by Acuity Lighting and Francis and Mount is close by, the meal site is the Masonic Temple. Weliver notes it’s the best site to prepare well over a thousand meals due to size and location. Delivery volunteers can line up their cars easily without disrupting traffic.

Weliver hopes to leave a “cheffy” legacy along with a logistical one. Starting the week before Christmas, they’ll activate the kitchens, smoking the turkey breasts. For the delivery meals, they’ll prepare turkey and gravy, smashed potatoes, green beans almondine, rolls with butter and all the cakes, pies and desserts donated by community members. He’s planning a special menu for the volunteers and attendees.

As chair, he’s already tapped all the walk-in freezers and fridges of nearby food service providers who are involved. The sacrifice of everyone involved is significant, Weliver says. This meal is a feat considering how food sourcing is more challenging for independent and small restaurants.

“A business of our size is not slotted for that level of volume,” Weliver said. He credits everyone involved for making a sacrifice, of time and talent regardless of skill set. Kitchen staff, working with volunteers who lack professional kitchen experience, will coach the inexperienced. 

“The volunteers are the most dedicated beautiful attitudes you can imagine,” he says, “even if they don’t have the kitchen vernacular.”

Everyone’s motive for serving, attending or just receiving meals varies. Most of the delivery recipients cannot travel. They’re already ordering extra Meals on Wheels for the holiday week, when other meal services are shuttered for the holidays. Pickup recipients choose to eat at home for a host of reasons, Weliver noted. They may not want to be social or hang out with strangers. They, like some volunteers, have struggled with the holidays.

As volunteers gather, he hears stories that resonate with him, some have a reason to dread or lament Christmas. Some are multi-generational volunteers — parents who want to show their kids how to give back.

The greatest gift is ourselves. In this present moment, when most of us are trying to get along, when volunteering has been on a decline, volunteers know how life-giving it can be ­— redefining trauma and connecting people across experiences. It requires nothing more than showing up and giving of one’s self.

Our local organizations often rely on volunteers — Trinity Mission, FISH Food Bank, the Animal Welfare League, League of Women Voters, churches and Pam’s Promise to name a few.

Elizabeth Zuk began her role with Pam’s Promise as a volunteer because its mission to provide transitional housing for homeless women and children hit close to her life. She and her mother spent several years homeless, couch surfing, sleeping in a car and sheltering in less-than-desirable conditions. Now she facilitates the program, which “encourages faith and family rebuilding as it works side by side with women to teach life skills and provide necessary tools to end homelessness.”

Pam’s Promise operates with a slim staff and relies on volunteers. Presently their greatest needs include pie makers - mark your calendars for each November if you’re passionate about pastries. The annual pie sale raises substantial funds for Pam’s Promise. They utilize 65 volunteers regardless of baking skill set, they’ll teach volunteers how to roll the perfect pastry crust. This year, two young men from Evonik, a nearby medical industry, volunteered eight hours of their day to help make pies. Neither had ever made a pie (or dessert for that matter). When they finished their day, they had made almost 50 pies all on their own!

Volunteers serve in many capacities. One volunteer regularly came to clean and organize bedrooms after clients graduated. Incoming women found beautifully made beds, decorated walls and personal touches. Because their homes require upkeep, Pam’s Promise is looking for plumbers and cement masons. Finally, they’re looking for board members who have a heart for housing women and children.

Like many community-centered people, Zuk works with other organizations. She helps the Vita program, which provides free tax filing for low to moderate-income individuals and families. Knowing there’s a gap for men in our community, Zuk cooks a large meal for Trinity Mission men twice a year,

“I’ve seen the benefit Trinity has on the men who enter their program. I know how hard they work and I like to take the task of cooking off of them, even just a few times,” Zuk said. Like Pam’s Promise, Trinity accepts donations of meals and funds year-round.

Volunteering transforms us. As Dr. King said, “The surest way to be happy is to seek happiness for others.” And it’s simple. Tennis champ and AIDS activist outlined the formula. “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”


The League of Women Voters, a non-partisan, multi-issue organization encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase public understanding of major policy issues and influences public policy through education and advocacy. All men and women are invited to join the LWV where hands-on work to safeguard democracy leads to civic improvement. For information, visit the website www.lwvmontcoin.org or the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County, IN Facebook page.