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Dale Clift, 72, hasn't let a variety of ailments keep her from producing a holiday meal for about 800 people.
Supplies are stacked up and ready to go in Dale Clift's Stafford living room. The former cafeteria manager says she is answering a divine call to 'feed 200 needy families.'
By CATHY DYSON
On the surface, it seems a bit far-fetched that a woman who's 72 and suffering from 17 diseases--but "nothing catchable" as she says--would attempt to put together a holiday meal for almost 800 people.
Dale Clift knows this.
But the Stafford County woman also realizes that she had little choice but to follow what she describes as the divine voice she heard one night in June.
"People think I'm crazy, but it's like this: If the Lord tells me to do something, I'm gonna do it," Clift said.
Twice on the same night this summer, she said God told her to "feed 200 needy families."
She took the directive to heart. She talked with her family, then fellow members at Mountain View Baptist Church in King George County.
With their help, she's collected about $4,000 to cover the cost of food. The menu includes ham and chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, carrots, fruit, rolls and homemade desserts, including Clift's pecan pies, brownies and pound cakes.
She and her main helper, her daughter, Menisa Trautmann, have slightly adjusted the focus of the dinner. They're opening it up to anyone in the Fredericksburg area who would like to attend.
That includes veterans, senior citizens, young families with children, single adults and empty-nest couples.
"If they're needy, fine. If not, that's fine, too," Clift said.
The dinner, which Clift is calling "A Christmas Grace," will be held on Saturday at King George Elementary School, at the corner of State Routes 3 and 205.
The event starts at 4 p.m., and Clift stresses that she has enough food for 800 people, so she's hoping for a big turnout.
"It's like that movie, 'Field of Dreams,'" Clift said. "Instead of build it and they will come, it's cook it and they'll be there. I'm counting on it."
People who know Clift, the widow of White Oak native John Mosby Clift, "have jumped in with both feet at her genuineness and pure desire to help others," said Billy Jett.
He's known Clift since she was the "cafeteria lady" at Grafton Village Elementary School. She managed the school food program for 16 years at Grafton and one year at North Stafford High School, before staying home to care for grandchildren.
"She is a lady with limited means and an unlimited determination," Jett said. Beyond that--and the fact she's on oxygen 24 hours a day and uses a walker--Clift has a heart for helping those who are hurting, Jett said.
And if she could overcome her own physical issues, including heart and lung disease, diabetes and arthritis, and use her cafeteria background to organize a dinner, then others would do whatever they could to help, he added.
Clift, whom Jett described as "an organizer beyond belief," has lined up about 80 helpers to greet people, cook, serve, set up the school before the dinner and clean up afterward.
Fellow church members, along with family and friends, will provide a craft for children and put together goodie bags for them.
"It's almost like a Christmas miracle," Jett said.
Clift and her late husband always have shared what they had with others, Trautmann said. John Clift served in the Marine Corps twice and helped his children build their homes.
One son, Monty, is a detective in King George County, and the other, Forrest, does public relations at a college in Michigan. He's working on his doctorate to become a school principal.
"We were raised with the idea the door's always open and anyone we brought by was always welcome for dinner," Trautmann said. "Mom's always been like that. Sometimes, she doesn't know when to quit."
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425