After all of the gifts are open on Christmas morning, the LaBorde family don their Santa hats and spend the next couple of hours delivering warm Christmas meals to those in need.

They have spent the last 10 or so years taking part in a Christmas day meal delivery program, started by St. William parishioner Marcia Slowinski 24 years ago. Before Slowinski started a program of her own, she volunteered for Meals on Wheels. One year, she was delivering meals to people who would be alone for the holidays, and based on other circumstances, she was going to be alone that holiday, as well.

She asked if she could bring something of her own to them later. By the next year, the word had spread about her Christmas cooking, people requested meals, and her friends, fellow St. William parishioners and other community members “jumped on board” to help her out.

“The idea is to bring a meal to someone who may be alone or who is homebound or their economic circumstances are such that they can’t afford a nice meal,” Slowinski said. “It’s about somebody coming to their door, bringing them something and wishing them a merry Christmas.”

When Slowinski first started the program, she did all of the cooking in her home kitchen, then moved to the kitchen occupied by Meals on Wheels, and now she and about a dozen volunteers cook out of the kitchen at St. William Parish. Slowinski buys the food and volunteers can contribute to the cost, but it comes out of her own budget, she said.

The volunteers start working a few days before Christmas cooking turkey, mashed potatoes and carrots. Along with the cooked meal, every person who requested a meal gets a goodie bag with Jell-O, cranberry sauce, Christmas cookies, holiday bread and a dessert.

On Christmas Day last year, volunteers delivered 360 meals in Waukesha County. With dozens of individuals and families traveling 26 different routes, the delivery was done in less than three hours.

Slowinski gives her phone number and information out to places where people may come looking for help, including Meals on Wheels, the Salvation Army, the Hope Center in Waukesha, churches and food pantries. Those who want a meal delivered either call her directly to request a meal or send her a tear-off from the flyers she provides to the organizations.

“When people call, sometimes they’ll tell me their stories, sometimes their kids are away or their spouse had just passed away, and there’s actually nobody that will be there with them on Christmas,” Slowsinski said. “It’s important that they realize that somebody’s thinking about them.

“I’m kind of hooked on this. For many of the drivers that help deliver the meals, this has become a tradition, as well. I never have problems finding volunteers on Christmas Day. Many of them want to do this so their kids have an understanding of what Christmas is all about.”

Such is the case with the LaBorde family, who are also St. William parishioners.

“Opening presents on Christmas morning left me and my husband feeling empty in trying to get the point across to our kids what the season was all about,” Linda LaBorde said. “We decided to throw our hats in and help (Slowinski). You have no idea how hard this woman works. She is a saint.”

When the LaBorde family arrives at St. William Parish on Christmas morning, they help wrap and stock the meals for each individual on their list, and, after a priest blesses the meals, they load the boxes full of meals into their cars.

The family started volunteering when their adult children were in high school. If the children are home for Christmas, they continue to participate and bring along girlfriends, wives or whoever is with them. The family is usually sent to an apartment complex in Butler, where now the people receiving meals have formed a relationship with them.

“They look forward to us coming,” LaBorde said. “They take pictures with us every year.”

“The meaning of family is important,” she said. “It’s not just the immediate family, but the extension of family can really encompass anyone. If we really feel that way and we reach out to other people for that moment, it lets them come into our fold. Even for a brief moment, they know we’re going to be there for them and it lets them know they are important to us.”