DDS worker puts food on plates of needy

by Bridget Alex | 11/8/04 6:00am

Most people consider birthdays a chance to celebrate with gifts and family. For Ruth Chris, director of food services at Dartmouth Dining Services' Byrne Hall facility, her last 15 birthdays have been a chance to give to others. Buying a birthday present for Chris every Nov. 7 is simple: She wants groceries, and over the last decade and a half has graciously received more than 2,000 bags full of them, which she then donates to the needy of the Upper Valley.

Sunday night marked the 15th year Chris has welcomed between 400 and 500 diners to her Vermont home in exchange for donations of food and money. At the end of the evening, trucks from assorted charity organizations collected the food, to be distributed to the hungry of the Upper Valley.

Cash donations, which in the past have continued to flow in weeks after the event, go to the Vermont food bank.

Over the past 14 years Chris has collected 2,250 bags of groceries and over $29,000 in cash donations. Chris estimated that last night's party added another 200 bags to that total, and said she expects another 30 late bags in the upcoming week.

Chris said the event has come to seem like a natural part of her life.

"There's so much need out there the party has taken on a life of its own," said Chris.

She also credited her guests for their generosity.

"Everybody makes this happen," she said. "By everybody's cans of corn and donations we're all helping our neighbors," she added.

The event requires extensive preparation on Chris's part. With a 3 a.m. start, she manages to prepare a menu including meatballs, chicken wings, clam chowder and the crowd favorite: chili dip.

Despite the growing size of the event, Chris continues to cook with only the help of her immediate family. At first, her children would whine about the labor involved in holding the party, but now they appreciate the value of the event, Chris said.

"That's the way I want it," she said. "It's my party to give to other people."

Chris said she has always had the idea for this event in the back of her mind, and buying a home large enough to accommodate the party "started the ball rolling." She said she hopes to continue to fill her home and that next year Dartmouth students will attend.

"When people come, they feel so good about what they are doing ... the more people the better," said Chris.

Donations are still welcome, Chris said. Food items can be brought to 12 Tuck Hall, and checks can be made out to Ruth Chris, at PO Box 108 in West Hartford, Vt. 05084.