MCHENRY – The sight of U.S. Navy seaman recruits mulling about downtown McHenry on Christmas Day is becoming as much of a tradition as the holly and ivy decorating the homes and businesses they walk past.
For the sixth time in as many years, the McHenry Masonic Lodge hosted a group of sailors from the Great Lakes Naval Base for a free meal, calls home and a movie.
Mike Zervos, a recruit from California, wasn’t supposed to start boot camp for a few more months. But when he got the call telling him to pack his bags, the third generation military man did so without realizing all the holidays that he would miss.
On Friday, Zervos called his family and friends in California on the free phones provided by AT&T.
“This is nothing like Christmas in California,” he said, looking out a window at the ice and snow on the ground. “But there is good coffee, good food, and its a nice change from being on base.”
Seaman Recruit Marites Samiano of Virginia said she enjoyed having the opportunity to eat with the rest of the recruits in a more laid-back setting.
“Everybody here has been very accommodating,” she said.
All 51 of the recruits – 27 men and 24 women – are scheduled to graduate next week.
Lodge Master Chris Scheiblhofer said the annual event was a way for the lodge members and the community to give back to the recruits who, because of their service to the country, are not able to go home for the holidays.
“We appreciate the service of these young men and women,” Scheiblhofer said. “I know for many of them, this is their first Christmas away from home.”
The lodge and a group of local businesses provided a catered meal with enough food for 100 people. The McHenry Downtown Theater provided the recruits with free movie showings and refreshments, and Panera, Riverside Bakery, Plum Garden and Oberweis Dairy all provided food. A number of Mason lodges from the area donated money to help cover the food costs.
“We get a lot of help from the community and our members come and go throughout the day to help out,” he said.