People gather at the American Legion for the annual Christmas breakfastin 2011. (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer file photo)
People gather at the American Legion for the annual Christmas breakfastin 2011. (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer file photo)
Wednesday December 19, 2012

BRATTLEBORO -- In the years since Charlie Slate was forced to give up organizing his annual Christmas morning breakfast, the Slate name has always been attached to the event, which has become a Brattleboro holiday tradition.

Slate died in 2008, and the annual free meal serves about 700 people on Christmas morning.

And while the meal will probably always be known by Slate's name, next year members of his family will once again organize the event.

This is the seventh year that Deirdre Baker has led the all volunteer effort, after saying she would stay on board for five years and then see what happens.

Now she says she is ready to spend a quiet Christmas morning at home with her family, and Charlie Slate's four children have agreed to head up the effort in 2014.

"Deirdre told us she was thinking of giving it up and we, as a family, have been talking about it," said Judy Flynn, one of Slate's daughters. "I think we are ready to do it."

Between Slate's four children, and a big group of his grandchildren and great grandchildren, the Slate family seems to have half of the volunteer shifts covered just from among themselves.

"I think it would be very honorable for my children to take it over," said Arlene Slate, Charlie's widow, adding that as a mother she is a little concerned about all the work it will take. "Deirdre has taken it over in Charlie's memory. We would be proud to do it again."

Flynn worked with her father for 13 years when he was heading up the efforts, and she says her family grew to understand that the breakfast was a part of the family's tradition.

"They know that Christmas morning did not start until I got home from breakfast," she says. "We would hate to see my dad's legacy stop after what he started."

Baker has organized the annual Christmas morning meal through a few difficult years that found her battling nose cancer which took away one of her eyes.

Her latest tests came back negative and she says she is cancer free now.

So with her health returning, and a new crew in the wings waiting to take over, she says she is ready to give up the leadership role, knowing that the tradition will live on.

Charlie Slate started the annual free Christmas morning breakfast in 1991 to feed the homeless and those who were alone on the holiday.

About 50 people showed up that first year and today the meal serves hundreds of people.

Baker says the breakfast still offers meals to those who have little else, but it also brings out families who have embraced the meal as part of their Christmas morning tradition.

It gathers college students home from school, local families and visitors who are passing through.

On Christmas morning they are all equal, and they are all fed with no questions asked and no compensation expected.

And while Baker is feeling good about passing on the organizational responsibilities to the Slate family, she also says she has one more Christmas breakfast to lead this year.

This year's breakfast will be held Christmas morning, from 8 to 11 a.m. at the American Legion at 32 Linden St.

At this point she says, all of the volunteer slots are filled and she has all of the food donated that she needs.

There is always a need for Christmas cookies so that anyone who wants can leave with a package of homemade cookies.

Donations can be dropped off at the American Legion in the days leading up to Christmas.

"People come through for this. Everybody does their part," said Baker. "Everything is coming together nicely."

Anyone who wants a Christmas breakfast delivered can call 802-579-5922, even on the day of the meal.

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or hwtisman@reformer.com.