Charity holiday dinner in Ypsilanti continues after organizer's guilty pleas
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The 2012 Downtown Ypsilanti Christmas Dinner forged ahead Wednesday, the day after the organizer of the event for the past 11 years pleaded guilty to two sexual assault charges.
The event was held at Korey's Krispy Krunchy Chicken, just like it was last year when it was pulled together by Leonardo Christian, the 53-year-old Ypsilanti man who faces 3-15 years for not informing a sexual partner that he was HIV-positive, as well as second-degree criminal sexual conduct. The four victims in the three cases were teenage boys.
The first victim, a 14-year-old boy, met Christian at a past holiday dinner.
But none of that was on the minds of the needy who received a free meal at this year's event. As of 3 p.m. Wednesday, Corey Barden said about 175 people had come through his chicken restaurant and gotten a meal. No one mentioned Christian, he said.
"We haven't heard anything about the situation. Nobody's asked about it," Barden said. "That's what we want, the community to receive a free meal. It was nice Leonardo did it for those years, but it's something (we) still wanted to do."
Barden said that by the end of the day, between 300 and 400 people would have received a free, hot meal.
"It's pretty nice," said Ypsilanti resident David Horn, who was enjoying his food Wednesday afternoon.
"I was hungry," said Bruce Henry of Ypsilanti Township. "It's very gracious. They're very nice people. The food is very good. I'm thinking of asking for seconds."
Much of the food was donated by local Ypsilanti restaurants, but the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office also contributed. Every year, they donate the leftover food from their large office holiday luncheon.
"We always bring whatever is left over here for the holiday dinner," said Kathy Wyatt, Sheriff Jerry Clayton's executive assistant. "It is truly a community dinner."
What's happened to Christian wasn't a concern, she added.
"This dinner was always about the people," Wyatt said. "It never was about who did it. It really was about everyone in our community having a holiday dinner. That shouldn't stop because of what one person did."
In years past, many of the volunteers were friends or associates of Christian, said Ypsilanti City Council member Ricky Jefferson, who was on hand to volunteer Wednesday.
Christian founded the event 12 years ago, Jefferson said, and this was the first year he has not been apart of it,
"We didn't know if it was going to pan out," Jefferson added. "It's a learning process this year."
Many of the new volunteers came from local churches. It was the first year Phyllis Roberts, a minister at Ekklesia Fellowship Ministry Church, volunteered at the Christmas dinner.
"It's part of our service," she said. "It's part of being a Christian, I'm going to serve wherever I'm needed."
Roberts brought her daughter, Alexys Card, a junior at Bowling Green State University.
"I feel like this is a great opportunity (and) experience," she said.