MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — Christmas is always front-of-mind for Janice Ash Sialiano. When you mention the word, you’ll notice a sparkle in her eye.
It’s just a tiny glimpse of the joy she spreads every year to her neighbors, who are simply looking for a hot meal and fellowship on Christmas Day. Her giving spirit has touched men, women and children of all ages, and that’s what makes her a 2023 Remarkable Woman finalist.
Sialiano is a co-founder of the “Community Christmas Dinner.” The annual event was started in the wake of Hurricane Hugo in 1989, just months after Sialiano began volunteering with the American Red Cross’ disaster response team.
“In December, we just said there (has to) be so many people who have nowhere to go and the means to have a Christmas meal, so why don’t we put together a dinner? We did. We fed about 500 people. We had 18 inches of snow. It was very difficult, and that was our first year,” Sialiano remembers.
Thirty-four years later, that event has now blossomed into South Carolina’s largest Christmas Day dinner and its own 501(c)(3) organization. Sialiano and a team of more than 300 volunteers are expecting to feed an estimated 14,500 people later this year — at a cost of roughly $55,000.
And the effort that goes into that task is enormous.
The Community Christmas Team is expecting to cook 21,500 pounds of halved chicken, 4,100 pounds of mashed potatoes, 4,000 pounds of green beans, 4,000 pounds of corn and 14,000 servings of dessert in the 10 days leading up to Christmas Day.
“I have to say, we would not be possible without the team that we have of volunteers,” she said. “No. 1 — they’re passionate about what they do. They show up every single year.”
The event’s traditional sit-down dinner is back for 2023, following a three-year hiatus because of COVID. Separate teams will deliver dozens more meals to those who can’t attend. A network of local organizations, nonprofit groups and ministries help the event reach additional people and families in that capacity, too.
“Those folks that come through that line and get that meal — they are so, so appreciative to have that food, to have that fellowship, Sialiano said. “We have music, we have tablecloths. We decorate the tables and we make it a special event, and it’s something they just don’t have in their lives. So we’re so grateful to do that and just to see their happiness and joy.”
On top of a home-cooked meal on Christmas Day, attendees also leave with a more-than-two-pound box of food. Sialiano said it’s important to help those less fortunate in the days after the holiday, too.
“I think so many people don’t really realize how bad food insecurity is to people,” she said. “They’re not able just to go to their pantry and say, ‘Hey, I’m gonna fix (this). I have food available.’ And it’s just amazing.”
Sialiano’s unwavering commitment and dedication to her community and this event earned her the Order of the Silver Crescent from the South Carolina Governor’s Office and recognition from the city of Myrtle Beach. Sialiano’s nominators said she is a “leader with a vision, a dream and is committed to leading by example.”
“Everything we do, she gives 100%. So watching her do something like that just gives (you) the feeling to inspire others yourself,” said Ruth Lemoine, a friend and co-worker.
Congratulations to Janice Ash Sialiano for being nominated as a 2023 Remarkable Woman. You can learn more about the Community Christmas Dinner, volunteering and donation opportunities by clicking here.