Friday 16 September 2022
Written by William Kincaid
Street. Anthony – Just like all good things, the productions of St. Anthony’s Dinner Theater, which for many people were the start of the Christmas season, are over.
Jani Timmerman, founder and president of the religious nonprofit organization, decided to halt theatrical productions after nearly 23 years, which she said brought in more than $1.2 million in aid to about 250 families.
“Just as I started, I received a message from the Holy Spirit,” she said. “It took me five years to say yes.” “But then I also got a message when it was time to quit. It was time to quit. And with the way the year has gone by, there’s no way I could have done under the circumstances that are just about everyone’s health and just different things.”
Although the Christmas performances at St. Anthony Parish Hall have ended, the dinner theater will keep its name and continue to raise funds to help those struggling families, Timmerman said.
“There are still a lot of families in need,” she said.
Dinner Hall is a 501(c)3 agency made up of 14 board members, an attorney, and an accountant. It will continue to seek grants through area organizations and donations from local businesses, with all proceeds going to families.
“We issued a newsletter and are still asking companies if they will donate,” she said.
The quarterly newsletter highlights volunteer efforts and provides updates on families that have been promoted over the years.
She said of the cast and hundreds of volunteers needed to get the production done: “I’m going to miss people because I love meeting people. Working with young people, that’s great.” “But the people I really relate to are the people we help so that continues. I keep in touch with probably 90% of them.”
Timmerman said some people were heartbroken when news broke of the end of the plays. For them, the 12 shows on weekends in November heralded the start of the Christmas season.
“They loved the message we send every year, the Christian Christmas Message,” Timmerman said. “And the humor. They loved the humor. We’ve always added humor.”
Although The Dinner Theater has focused on generating money for people in distress, it has also established a reputation for providing first-class entertainment. Patrons were escorted to their tables where they enjoyed a formal dinner before watching a different play each year that lasted for two hours.
The plays featured up to 50 actors, a 35-member choir, elaborate, professional ensembles, and well-trained scripts and songs.
She said the Christmas message – the birth of Jesus Christ – resonated with audiences in different ways. After one performance, Timmerman said she encountered a man in his 30s crying in the hallway. She asked if she could help him.
“He’s gone, I need to go back to church, right?” Timmerman recalls. “And I said yes and he left. I don’t know who he is. I haven’t seen him since.”
She also stated that she received a handwritten five-page letter in the summer after the theater production of “A Second Chance for Christmas.”
“This woman didn’t want to come but her friends made her come and she found (in the play) that God gave this guy a second chance,” Timmerman said.
Timmerman said the woman’s alcoholism caused her to lose her family, her job, and her faith. But after watching the play, she sought her second chance and slowly regained everything she lost, she said.
Timmerman said the production proceeds were intended for families who were left in dire straits with medical problems. Their stories are featured in the annual theater program. Furthermore, additional proceeds are transferred to other families throughout the year who wish not to draw attention to their status.
“We don’t always give them money,” Timmerman said. “Every family is unique. We bought a car. We paid utility bills and electric bills. And we added, I think, five or six bathrooms for the disabled.”
She said the families were grateful for the help but also for the seemingly random concern that strangers showed them.
“They just feel like there’s someone out there who cares about me,” Timmerman said. “It feels good for them. It’s not always money, but people.”
The Dinner Theater will host an in-person online auction at St. Anthony Parish Hall on October 8. The time has not yet been set. Tables, chairs, desks, costumes, lights, spotlights, microphones, sound mixing board, Christmas trees, wreaths, lamps, cradle sets, chandeliers, props, timber, plywood, doors and many other items will be on sale.
“Every penny will go back to the families,” Timmerman said.
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