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'I believe in a calling': The man behind St. Peter's 35 year Christmas tradition

Robert Keeder began organizing the downtown Columbia Catholic church's holiday lunch in 1985.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — For 35 years, St. Peter's Catholic Church in Columbia has fed hundreds on Christmas Day. 

The man behind this tradition has kept coming back to serve his community every year since 1985. 

“My home and my heart is in Columbia, SC, at St. Peter’s Catholic Church," says Robert Keeder, a longtime member of the church located at 1529 Assembly Street.

“I believe, really, in a calling. I think we’re all called to do something before we die. We don’t necessarily know what it is, but eventually, you’ll come upon it and you have to recognize it." 

Keeder believes his calling is serving the Columbia community. 

Born in Michigan in 1945, Keeder and his three brothers were raised in two orphanages after his mother died -- the second of those being the famous Boys Town orphanage in Omaha, Nebraska.

“I was in the choir, an altar boy and studies of course," Keeder remembers. "I left Boys Town and went back to Michigan for a year and then I was accepted into seminary in Rock Hill, SC, called The Oratory.”

After 3½ years in seminary, Robert decided it wasn’t for him and relocated to Columbia. Here, he worked at a graphics company for over 30 years and served on the board of Boys Town.

Inspiration for the holiday meal at St. Peter's hit him in 1985 while on the way to the church in downtown Columbia.

“I was driving to the church 35 years ago and I just happened to notice as I was driving around Assembly, this area, that a lot of people were just kind of walking around. To me, it looked like at the time -- destination nowhere." 

Credit: WLTX

After that, Keeder began the Christmas dinner tradition where, for 35 years, he volunteers and organizes dinner at St. Peter's on Christmas Day.

“This is my home, these are my children, these are my family. My Michigan family is fine," Keeder says. 

"I made a commitment in life. Just like when you make a commitment to your wife, your husband, your children. A commitment is a commitment. Probably a lot of people would always go home on Christmas, always go home for Thanksgiving. But some of us decided we don’t want to do that. We want to spend time with our fellow men and women here on the streets of Columbia. And once you commit to something like this it takes a lot of effort.”

Keeder will working to feed those in need on Christmas day again this year from 3 p.m.- 5 p.m. at St. Peter's on Assembly St.

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