Charlie Peterka, owner of Charlie’s Pizza in Little Falls, is getting ready to host his sixth free Christmas dinner. At first it started out as something to help take his mind off of Christmas Day.
Grieving the loss of his daughter, Donna, who died nearly eight years ago, even the thought of celebrating Christmas brought little joy.
“We just kind of felt that we needed to do something to give back to the community, too,” he said. “So we thought: ‘Why not feed people?’”
Peterka opens the doors to his restaurant on a day when many businesses are usually not open. It provides a place for those who may not have somewhere to go for Christmas Day. It is also a place for anyone to go to just spend time with other people.
“Some even come from the Brainerd and St. Cloud area,” he said.
At the Christmas dinner, people are served pizza, homemade soup, bread sticks, cookies, cake, ice cream and soda. Toys are also given away to the children and new bicycles are raffled away.
“Every kid gets at least one or two gifts,” said Peterka.
Last year, over 200 children and even more adults came to the dinner.
Peterka said at first the event started out slowly, but has since gained momentum.
“We may have started it, but the community has now kind of taken it over,” he said. “There are so many volunteers and businesses that give that I couldn’t possibly name them all.”
Peterka said that not only has the dinner become a tradition for him, his wife Candice and other family members, but for several other families, as well.
One of those families is the family of Little Falls Community Schools Supt. Stephen Jones. He, his wife, Kristin, their son, Noah, and daughter, Hannah, have volunteered at the Christmas dinner for the last four years.
“This will be our fifth year,” Jones said. “This year, our exchange student from Spain, Livia Prado-Charaf, will be with us.”
Jones said he and his family got to know Peterka when they moved to Little Falls in 2012 and visited the restaurant many times.
When the Jones family learned about the Christmas dinner and saw the passion Peterka demonstrated, they knew it was something they wanted to be a part of.
Jones said that the event really symbolizes what Peterka believes in and is committed to.
“It’s all about the true definition of ‘community.’ A community should understand the needs of its people and Charlie’s Christmas dinner does just that,” he said. “It demonstrates generosity and gratitude at the same time. A community that cares about each other is truly a wonderful place for all people.”
Peterka thanks the community for making the dinner possible and for all the support he has been shown.
Charlie’s Christmas Dinner will be held Christmas Day, Sunday, Dec. 25, from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Charlie’s Pizza, at 1006 Haven Rd., in Little Falls.
There will be live music and a visit from Santa.
Those who are interested in attending, Peterka asks only that they show up hungry.