Christmas Breakfast faces an unwanted holiday
Brattleboro’s annual Charlie Slate Memorial Christmas Breakfast has previously served as many as 903 meals in a year.

Christmas Breakfast faces an unwanted holiday

Four generations of family organizers vow that this year’s COVID-19 cancellation won’t stop the future of a Brattleboro event known for pancakes and perseverance

BRATTLEBORO — Jadi Flynn recalls the Christmas morning four decades ago when her late grandfather Charlie Slate changed the course of family history by chauffeuring his wife to work.

“He dropped my grandmother off,” Flynn says, “and then drove around and realized there was no place open to eat.”

So began what's now the annual Charlie Slate Memorial Christmas Breakfast, whose third- and fourth-generation organizers - although canceling this year's event due to COVID-19 - vow to continue to serve up pancakes and perseverance long into the future.

The tradition started in 1982 when Slate, offering to cook a free breakfast to whoever wanted one, fed 50 people ranging from the homeless to those simply hankering not to cook.

The gathering has grown to host nearly 1,000 patrons a year since Slate passed it on - first to area resident Francis Willette in 1997, then to fellow local Deirdre Baker a decade later.

Continuing the effort has its challenges. Consider Baker. When the working mother began, she figured she'd give it five years. After her fourth in 2010, she wondered if her plate was too full, as she couldn't shake a stuffy nose.

Seeing a doctor, Baker discovered she had sinus cancer. To reach it, surgeons had to sacrifice her right eye in an operation that morphed into a half-dozen, followed by six weeks of daily three-hour trips for radiation.

Wearing an eye patch, Baker nevertheless oversaw her fifth breakfast.

“I've had so much support from my friends and community,” she said in 2011. “This is my way of paying it forward.”

Once she became disease-free, Baker was ready to pass on the tradition. Judy Flynn, Slate's daughter, agreed to take on the task of coordinating volunteers and contributions.

Then she was diagnosed with cancer.

Flynn, like Baker, was determined to beat it. But a week before Christmas 2013, Flynn died unexpectedly, leaving Baker to remember what she told Slate the first year she organized the breakfast, which happened to be the last one he was alive for.

“He grabbed my hands and said, 'Thank you so much for taking this over - I love you.' I told him not to worry, it would continue on.”

Baker headed efforts one more time before training Slate's granddaughter, Jadi Flynn, and great-granddaughter, Megan Walker, six years ago.

The two, facing such obstacles as a 2017 Christmas storm that dropped nearly a foot of snow, nonetheless have led the event to new heights.

Last year, organizers served a record 903 meals. They had hoped to hit 1,000 this week. But that prediction came before the pandemic cancelled both the sit-down gathering and any thoughts of distributing takeout from a kitchen too small for the cooking crew to work at safe distances from one another.

“It breaks our hearts,” the family posted on Facebook, “but we

'feel it is important in order to keep our guests and volunteers safe and healthy.”

The usual crew of 60 won't have to wake as early as 2:30 a.m. to ready 3,200 sausage links, 1,920 hash browns, 270 pounds of eggs, 140 pounds of pancake mix, and 14 pounds of coffee.

They consider that a mixed blessing.

“We know it's the right decision,” Jadi Flynn says. “We definitely will be sleeping in a little bit this year, enjoying - as difficult as it is - some downtime.”

Then again, the family already is thinking about that 1,000-meal mark for 2021.

“It's just such a wonderful feeling to be able to do this and pay it forward,” Flynn says. “We plan on being back next year, celebrating bigger and better.”

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