Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Nassau Tradition Shows Its Age; Hard Times Inspired Holiday Party

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Nassau Tradition Shows Its Age; Hard Times Inspired Holiday Party

Article excerpt

Byline: Alison Trinidad, Nassau Neighbors staff writer

The holiday season 20 years ago on Amelia Island looked bleak for workers who were laid off from Container Corporation of America, which is now Smurfit-Stone Container Corp.

After an 11-week strike, only two of three teams of workers returned to the paper mill, leaving about 40 people out of jobs just before Christmas.

Ronald Peters, then the union president, says that's how a 20-year tradition was born, a tradition that may be nearing its end. For the past two decades, Peters and about five others, on behalf of the island's organized labor groups, have planned holiday dinners for the community's seniors and retirees.

This year's dinner will be from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Kraft Athletic Club Lounge, more commonly known as Ten Acres. There will be food, bingo, prizes and live music for senior citizens and retirees. Organizers say about 350 people attend the dinner each year.

"They enjoy a good meal and companionship," Peters said. "We enjoy ourselves and have fun."

There wasn't much fun to be had after the strike in 1983, and those who returned to work wanted to do something for their unemployed friends and their families, Peters said.

"We decided we could make them a better Christmas," he said. "We wanted to make sure their kids didn't go without."

The workers had a rummage sale at the union hall to raise money for a Christmas party. With the proceeds, they put on a feast and gave presents to their friends' families. Peters said they had so much fun, they decided to make it an annual affair.

Since the dinner's inception, unions representing machinists, chemical workers, electrical workers, city employees, teachers and postal workers have participated. The party's time was moved from Christmas to Thanksgiving. And instead of benefitting laid-off colleagues, the community's senior citizens have become the guests of honor. …

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